It is no news that history is selective and the greatest human stories are left unwritten. This is one of the reasons I am drawn to authors who bring to light, even through fiction, the stories of those we will not find in historical accounts.
Kristin Hannah tells us why she wrote “The Nightingale”: “In war, women’s stories are all too often forgotten or overlooked. Women tend to come home from the battlefield and say nothing and go on with their lives. The Nightingale is a novel about those women and the daring, dangerous choices they made to save their children and their way of life.”
“The Nightingale” – or rosignol in French – takes the reader to the German-occupied France in the second world war. Nightingale is a code name for a Resistance member who rescued downed airmen in France and took them on foot through Pyrenees mountains to the British consulate in Spain. The main characters’ stage is shared by two sisters – Vianne and Isabelle – who were estranged after their mother’s death and reconnected through unbelievable struggles of war. The characters seem to be opposites at the beginning. As the story unfolds, we see them more alike than apart, each brave in her own way.
Alaska. The Great Alone: Alaska – the great alone. Alaska: the great – alone. Alaska – the Great, alone… each reader will find his/her own understanding in this rich novel. I loved the plot, the characters and the style. I was looking forward to pickup my Kindle in the evening to keep reading it.
The story of a young woman married to an ex-Vietnam soldier who brought the hell in his mind to their marriage. Their daughter – thirteen-year-old Leni – is caught in the middle of her parents toxic relationship. In the hope of a fresh start, they move to Alaska. It is never easy to read about domestic violence. In this novel it is amplified by the harsh climate of Alaska, which is unforgiving: “A woman has to be tough as steel up here. You can’t count on anyone to save you and your children. You have to be willing to save yourselves.” Yet Hannah shows it to us from a survivors’ and not from a victim’s perspective. They find true friendship, love and finally – peace.
I saw the book on a friend’s instagram account. It clicked immediately with my needs at that moment in time. I read it in one go. It’s truly a gift. I probably used the highlights more often than in any of the books I read so far. It’s humane, genuine, and humble.
A few of my favorite quotes:
“If you’re perfectionistic, you’re going to procrastinate, because perfect means never.”
“Power has nothing to do with brawn or domination. It means you have the strength to respond instead of react, to take charge of your life, to have total ownership of your choices.”
“If you take back your power and still want to be right, then choose to be kind, because kindness is always right.”
“We aren’t born with fear. Somewhere along the way, we learn it.”
“The most toxic, obnoxious people in our lives can be your best teachers. The next time you’re in the presence of someone who irks or offends you, soften your eyes and tell yourself, “Human, no more, no less. Human, like me. Then ask, “What are you here to teach me? “
It is probably my least favorite novel by Shafak so far. It could be the timing and my mind’s needs at this point. It does not diminish one single point its value.
“The Flea Palace” is about emotional lives spent behind the doors of our dwellings, where we think we have privacy. A tragicomic look at a community of people denying themselves any sense of belonging to a community, even if it lives under one roof, the roof of the Bonbon Palace built by a former Russian general for his wife.
My favorite passages:
« Truth is a horizontal line. Be it a hotel corridor, hospital ward, rehabilitation centre or train compartment; all are horizontal. In such places, all your neighbours are lined up next to you on a horizontal plane, for a fleeting moment. You cannot grow roots at these places. Horizontality is the haven of evanescence. I too have been living on a horizontal line for sixty-six days – in the seventh of the ten cells lined up next to each other here. »
« Lies are a vertical line. An apartment building, for instance, erected with flats on top of one another with two layers of cemeteries underneath and seven planes of skies above. Here you can spread roots and grow branches as you please. Verticality Lies are a vertical line. An apartment building, for instance, erected with flats on top of one another with two layers of cemeteries underneath and seven planes of skies above. Here you can spread roots and grow branches as you please. «
Honour. Think about this word. “An action of honoring or paying respect to; act or gesture displaying reverence or esteem; state or condition inspiring respect; nobleness of character or manners; high station or rank; a mark of respect or esteem; a source of glory, a cause of good reputation.” Sounds heavy, obliging, demanding, and in total opposition to “humble”.
What do you honor by killing? Can you get rid of guilt of killing for honour? … this novel raises so many questions from a variety of perspectives. What is “honour” to a sister, a daughter, a loving son, an unforgiving son, a wife, a community of the same faith, a society of many faiths… I loved the story line, and the dual timelines, and every single character. Shafak is a unique writer to me, as she breaths the life into her characters as if she lived each of their stories separately and then jointly. And she does so with grace and humility.
I am very much enjoying books telling stories from the perspective of vulnerable. « The secrets we left behind » tells the story of British nurses left behind during the army’s evacuation from France at the beggining of the WWII. Cate, a brave nurse and Jack, her rescued patient, meet two French sisters who shelter them under the nose of Germans. The story takes time to unfold, so you might need to be patient at the beginning. The author tried to show us that even during unbelivable hurdles humans can fall in love. I found though this part a bit overboard, perhaps because all female characters fell in love one after another.
The background scenery serves well its purpose, so that the mind can picture and place the characters in Normandie at the time of the action.