Sisters of the Sky by Lana Kortchik: A dazzling tribute to some of the unsung heroines of wartime – book review –

Sisters of the Sky by Lana KortchikSisters of the Sky by Lana Kortchik
Sisters of the Sky by Lana Kortchik
When Hitler launched an attack on the Soviet Union in June of 1941, it wasn’t just Russian men who lined up to volunteer for active service.

Across the country, thousands of women rushed to conscription points to fight the enemy as nurses, snipers, machine gunners and artillery operators… but what few might know is that a thousand women also trained as pilots to lead three, all-female bomber and fighter aviation regiments.

These feisty, fearless, female flyers fought combat missions against the Nazi invaders until the end of the war and, at the time, were the only women in the world allowed to fly in combat.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

And it’s these plucky pilots – led by the world famous Soviet pilot and navigator Marina Raskova – who were the inspiration for this thrilling story from the pen of Lana Kortchik who grew up in Ukraine and Siberia, and now lives in Australia.

Kortchik – author of gripping historical novels Sisters of War, Daughters of the Resistance and The Countess of the Revolution – sweeps us into the lives of two friends who discover that war brings battles not just in the skies but also in the hearts of those behind the lines.

As war rages in the Soviet Union in October of 1941, the noise of battle, and the smell of fire and death, have become the soundtrack to the life of Nina Petrova in her home city of Moscow.

The Germans have snatched away Nina’s future with their bombs and constant terror, and now she faces the devastation of watching her beloved younger brother Vlad heading to the battle front as a fighter pilot.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Nina has witnessed so many soldiers go to war and never return, and with her father, uncle and three cousins already on the battlefield, Vlad is her only family left.

Alongside her is best friend, Katya Bogdanova, whose husband Anton is also heading to the front, leaving Katya to care for their distraught three-year-old daughter Tonya.

Sick of feeling helpless and living in ‘darkness with not a glimmer of hope,’ Nina and Katya – who both learned to fly when they joined a flying club as teenagers – are determined to fight for the motherland to volunteer for the first female-only aviation regiment, led by their hero, the legendary pilot Major Marina Raskova.

Leaving her daughter with her mother, Katya joins Nina at the training centre at Engels but while Katya grieves for her lost life in Moscow, Nina relishes every minute of the vigorous training regime.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Fourteen months later, the two young women complete the course and are ready to join the 587th Dive Bomber Regiment to pilot powerful Pe-2 planes, one of the most sophisticated Soviet aircraft with twin tails and twin engines.

But fighting a war is nothing like they expected, and soon the battle lines are no longer restricted to the front. And when a forbidden love begins to blossom, Nina is faced with the ultimate betrayal. Even if she and her loved ones make it out alive, will Nina’s life ever be the same again?

Sisters of the Sky is both an eye-opening account of the war’s remarkable band of Soviet female pilots and a moving, drama-packed story of love, friendship, betrayal and sacrifice.

The daily hardships and frustrations, the jaw-dropping bravery and the dangerously daring missions undertaken by the crews spring to life as the women find comfort in friendships, and strength in their shared endeavours and achievements.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Harnessing her extensive research, Kortchik’s drama-packed story highlights the dedication and resolve of these women as they face the vagaries of the brutal Russian weather, the punishing schedules, the constant danger, the inevitable loss of life, and the almost daily challenge of driving back the enemy.

There is breathtaking courage, awe-inspiring determination, self-sacrifice, guilt, and the terrible pain of loss in this fierce and emotional tale but we also witness the joys of love and the power of female friendships which, the great Marina Raskova reminds us, ‘is the most precious thing in the world… it brings out the best in us.’

A dazzling tribute to some of the unsung heroines of wartime…

(HQ, paperback, £9.99)

Related topics: