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. «
Once upon a time here lived queen Darejan, a mother of 23 girls and boys. Her king built a palace for her on the incline to Sachino. She was also a builder and she furthered it to its glory of the XVIII century.
She fought for whom she loved. She lived the best she could in those troublesome times, and saw her end on Earth in exile on foreign cold land.
Today we can take the same walking paths she took thanks to the reconstruction funded by tax payers of Georgia. And we can admire the city from the beautiful blue framed balcony, perhaps from the exact same spot the queen used to.
I anticipated a one-of-a-kind journey. It was. In a sense… putting aside the many short cuts I took (alias chapters skimping in the 600 page book).
The lives of three central female characters with different backgrounds and from different eras sounded appealing. Yet their stories do little to support each other in one novel. I wonder if the author considered a trilogy at some point and then decided to go for one novel… Nevertheless, one can still feel the dominance of one character – Marian Graves, the fictional pilot, who took it to the sky regardless of social norms of her times (30s-40s of last century). We get to know her a bit through the experience of her mother, a troubled woman who took her own life, along with dozens others, by presumably blasting a boat, whose captain was her unaware husband. I wish there were less pages on Marian’ sex experiences, as it does little to unveil her character. She likes sex, with both men and women, we get that. There is no apparent need to delve on it. I skipped almost entirely the chapters about the third female character – a fictional Hollywood starlet of our times. Her inner struggles and confusions do little justice to Marian, whose character she is supposed to play in a movie about the legendary flight around the two poles.
The book is said to be well researched for historical events and surroundings spanning over 100 years on different continents. A truly commendable effort. At times it felt as if the author actually lived there and then, at other times, it felt a bit too documentary to me.
This book had many DNF reviews. I also almost dropped it, yet if you are patient or selectively skipping parts of it, you might be rewarded when you get to “The Flight” chapter on the actual culmination of the life of Marian.
I always read the “Acknowledgement” section. There are always little treasures there if you look. This time it was a writing app – Scrivener.
I always give 5 stars to books, and my review is very personal, which has little to do with the author’s labour, which I cannot judge.
Some human stories on this planet are universal. Father – son relationships, revenge, unfulfilled potential, unhappy marriages, rich and poor. Same goes for human emotions of fear, faith, greed, contentment, courage, love and hate. What is curious is how Boyne constructed the plot or rather the succession of plots to tell us this universal story. He takes the reader on a journey in time and a globetrotting of some sorts spread over a thousand years of struggle to reach peace.
The main character (Boyne himself, I think) meets known and unknown characters and lives through historic events as he attempts to give sense to his own life. A rather futuristic last chapter of life on an orbit was rather unexpected to me, yet, I gather, it is meant to give the reader an optimistic and hopeful ribbon to hold on to perhaps.
Joanne Harris knows a thing or two about writing, as a world renown author and the Chair of the Society of Authors. I was delighted to discover her book about writing. I love it when people are generous in sharing their knowledge.
The book will take you into the insights of the writing process from start to the publication and beyond. It will unveil the secrets of what makes a story, characterisation and detailing. And it is all written with honesty and no-non-sense. Joanne is incredibly encouraging towards aspiring writers: “Remember, … , that just writing is an act of bravery. You have the courage to do what it takes to give your voice the chance to be heard. Don’t do it because you want to be the next J.K. Rowling, or Maya Angelou, or Margaret Atwood. Those are already taken. Do it because your voice is unique. Only you can take this chance. No one else will ever be you, or tell your story the way you can”.
After this book, I also realized that I am more demanding as a reader. Joanne is right. If after 10 pages I am not fully absorbed by the story or if the author states the obvious (“the rain is wet” ), I will close the book and look for something else to read.