What are the limits of "anguish and loss"? wonders Wanda Nakatani, one of four girlfriends whom Valerie Miner portrays in her engrossing novel, "All Good Women." In this story spanning 1938 to 1950, the quartet bravely grapple with such questions while the exigencies and upheavals of war transform them into resilient, introspective women.
Miner, a teacher at the University of California at Berkeley, begins by showing Wanda, Moira Finlayson, Ann Rose, and Teresa (Teddy) Fielding as students in typing class at a San Francisco business school. Outwardly, they seem poised and untroubled, but each has already experienced tragedy.
Ann's father cruelly eliminated every trace of Jewishness from the Rose household, thus forcing his wife into "confusion, grief, and rage" before mental illness ruined her. In addition, Ann still mourns for her dear friend, Carol, who was found in a bathtub with her wrists slit. Wanda's father committed suicide after the FBI persecuted him simply for being Japanese. During her infancy, Moira's father died of tuberculosis. Teddy's family came to California from the Oklahoma dust bowl, where Depression-era hardships nearly destroyed them.
The rapport among these girls deepens, so they decide to share a house. The Pearl Harbor bombing stuns them all, especially Wanda, who must endure compulsory resettlement in Arizona along with thousands of Japanese-Americans, including her mother and two siblings. Even when family responsibilities overwhelm Wanda, dreams of being a crusading journalist linger in her mind.