Lauren Willig’s new novel blooms from one of her recent books, Band of Sisters (2021) which followed a group of Smith College grads as they made their intrepid way to France to lend a hand during WWI in 1917. Willig became intrigued with their leader and this book’s central character is based on her – another Smith grad who trained in archeology, was denied “dig” time in Greece because of her sex, and turned to humanitarian work and war nursing.
Willig’s fictional creation, Betsy Hayes, has just arrived in Athens in 1896 hoping to excavate. The classicist in charge tells her to try being a librarian; she finds lodging with a swanky titled Greek woman who knew her father, gets around town on her bicycle, and manages to get on some archaeological tours with the male students. Along the way she encounters a dashing French Count and falls hard even though (gasp, though not a surprise) he’s inconveniently married. Ultimately, her frustrations become so great she decides to try war nursing. Recommended by the Queen of Greece, she heads to the front, in what was the short lived Greco-Turkish war of 1897. Short lived, but with no shortage of horror.