The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – Book

 
 
Last year we celebrated the 60th Anniversary of
the D-Day invasion at Normandy. This might explain the small flurry of titles
which cover the German occupation of France and which tell of the relief felt
by Frenchmen everywhere when the Allies invaded at Normandy on June 6, 1944. Some of
these books also mark the day that lives in infamy in French history, the day
when the Jews of Paris were rounded up and forced to stay in the Velodrome d’Hiver
(an indoor winter cycling track) until they could be transported to
concentration camps in Germany.

These stories relate history but they are also personal. They
nurture self-examination. If our country was occupied by an enemy we feared, an
enemy that had already conquered and subdued proud nations which also treasure
their autonomy, how would we behave?

In these novels about occupied France authors show us the
choices. Citizens who don’t have to go out in public except to shop could
perhaps lay low, but this option did not work for many Frenchmen or women. You
could “collaborate” with your occupiers as many business people were
practically forced to do. Some citizens, however, were more opportunistic and
saw “collaboration” as a way to prosper. And with great care and in total
secrecy you could join a resistance movement and find ways to work around your
occupiers, or pass on insider information about them to their enemies, or to harass
and harry them. Some resisters were able to save a small number of Jewish
French citizens or their children but this was very difficult as people had to
be hidden, fed, and clothed, almost impossible to do with aggressive German
troops everywhere.

The
Nightingale
by Kristin Hannah is the story of Isabelle
Rossignol, a fictional French woman, rebellious since she was a girl, who joins
the Resistance in France. She always wanted to do something heroic and she
finds a way to fulfill that dream. She ‘collects’ downed Allied pilots and
hikes with them over the Alps into Spain. Her last name means nightingale and
it became her “tag” of heroism. She becomes famous as the Nightingale and she
puts her life in jeopardy over and over again. Although she is not a real
person, people really did do things just as heroic as Isabelle’s rescues.

She also had a sister, Vianne, who had no heroic
inclinations. She had the life she loved as a mom and wife and a school
teacher, at least she did until Germany marched into France. Her husband left
to go fight with a woefully unprepared French army and was captured and forced to
spend the war in a German work camp and his wife was left to live in a village
that now belonged to her German captors. Vianne eventually found her own way to
be heroic.

Although this story does not have the fine literary qualities of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony
Doerr, Hannah’s story is also well worth reading. Kristin Hannah covers the
same historical events and both stories are set mostly in France. Although The
Nightingale does not represent any one real figure she does remind us that many
French men and women found ways to resist their captors and did so pretty much
right under their noses. Kristin Hannah also gives us a wrenchingly clear view
of the deprivations suffered by the people of France when Germany started to
lose the war and food and clothing and supplies became almost impossible for
the French people to find. Conquered people all over Europe suffered terrible
deprivations and there would have been mass starvations had they not been
rescued just in time. The way the lives of ordinary French people in the
countryside were affected is described well in this novel.

This was an excellent story and I did shed a few tears. We
will never really know if we could resist a fearful foe living right amongst us
until we encounter such a moment and I am sure we all pray that will never
happen.
 
By Nancy Brisson

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – Book

 
 
Anthony Doerr is the author of the novel All The Light We Cannot See. Anthony Doerr is not just a
storyteller, although he tells a great story; he is a writer, a literary writer
whose prose has whole other levels that take off from the story. He is a
philosopher. He creates an artful world. There is rich symbolism all over the
place. There is despair at the calumny of man and rapture at the triumphs of
the human spirit. This is a beautifully written book.

Doerr gives us two young people, one French, one German; one
male, one female; one treasured but blind, one with great intelligence but
destined for the coal mines at fourteen. Both children have quite enough to
deal with but into the midst of their lives Hitler arrives and the lives they
might have lived are set on a new trajectory. Marie-Laure, blind, female, a
virtual prisoner in occupied France has more freedom to act then Werner, our
German boy, the occupier, who must dance, against his nature, to Hitler’s tune.

Science plays a fascinating and consuming role in this novel,
both the quest of mankind to understand the physics of the universe and the natural
history of the universe as contrasted with Hitler’s obsessive and horrific
attempts to quantify the universe. Hitler keeps records on everything, he
greedily steals and hides the art and wealth of Europe and yet he doesn’t
really understands the possibility that art gives humans the capacity to
transcend the primitive in our natures. Hitler does not transcend, although he
believes himself to be the most transcendent of all humans.

“It strikes Werner just then as wondrously futile to build
splendid buildings, to make music, to sing songs, to print huge books full of
colorful birds in the face of the seismic, engulfing indifference of the world –
what pretensions humans have! Why bother to make music when the silence and the
wind are so much larger? Why light lamps when the darkness will inevitably
snuff them? When Russian prisoners are chained by threes and fours to fences
while German privates tuck live grenades in their pockets and run?”

Why indeed?

And yet this is not a depressing novel because of the two
children at its center. Here’s Marie-Laure, a true student of nature,
indomitable in spite of her blindness.

“What mazes are there in this world, the branches of trees,
the filigree of roots, the matrix of crystals…Mazes in the nodules on murex
shells and in the textures of sycamore bark and inside the hollow bones of
eagles. None more complicated than the human brain.”

Every time I say that I can’t imagine another book based in the
World War II someone proves once again what a rich mine is in it for human
thought and human error. Anthony Doerr has caught all of that in this bestselling
novel.
 
By Nancy Brisson

April, 2015 Book List

 
 
Here we have the book list for April, 2015 but I am months
back, still reading books from earlier lists. Some of these titles are very
tempting. I am really attracted to a couple of the nonfiction titles. The Essay book by Donald Revell looks
so good that I put in the little blurb from PW to remind me. I am a T.S. Eliot
fan so I think I would enjoy the biography about his early years. Jo Nesbo has
a new book to add to the many I have enjoyed. Romances are hardly ever on
literary best seller lists but PW tells us that Josi S. Kilpack has written a
very good one called A Heart Revealed
which I would like to check out. So many great books, so much dust piled up on
the furniture. Sometimes you have to do housework. Those of us addicted to reading
do the best we can. No white gloves please.

Amazon

Between
You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen
by Mary Norris

Orhan’s
Inheritance
by Aline Ohanesian

The
Harder They Come
by T.C. Boyle

God Help
the Child
by Toni Morrison

The
Sympathizer
by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The
Light of the World
by Elizabeth Alexander

So
You’ve Been Publically Shamed
by Jon Ronson

I Refuse by Per
Petterson

TheChildren’s
Crusade
by Ann Packer

Mysteries,
Thrillers, and Suspense

The
Harder They Come
by T.C. Boyle

The Bone
Tree

by Greg Iles

Blood on
Snow

by Jo Nesbo

Where
They Found Her
by Kimberly McCreight

The Dead
Lands
by Benjamin Percy

House of
Echoes
by Brendan Duffy

The
Invention of Fire
by Bruce Holsinger

The
Winter Family
by Clifford Jackman

All
Involved
by Ryan Gattis

What You
Left Behind
by Samantha Hayes

Independent
Booksellers

At the
Water’s Edge
by Sara Gruen

The
Harder They Come
by T.C. Boyle

The
Nightingale
by Kristin Hannah

World
Gone By
by Dennis Lehane

A
Dangerous Place
by Jacqueline Winspear

Leaving
Berlin
by Joseph Kanon

The
Patriot Threat
by Steve Berry

The
Whites
by Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt

The
Fortune Hunter
by Daisy Goodwin

The
Winter People
by Jennifer McMahon

Can’t
and Won’t
by Lydia Davis

Game of
Mirrors
by Andrea Camilleri

Our
Endless Numbered Days
by Claire Fuller

A Little
Life

by Hanya Yanagihara

Cuba
Straits
by Randy Wayne White

The Tusk
That Did the Damage
by Tania James

The Big
Seven
by Jim Harrison

The
Shadows
by J.R. Ward

The
Skull Throne
by Peter V. Brett

Epitaph by Mary
Doria Russell

The
Sculptor
by Scott McCloud

The
Beauty
by Jane Hirshfield

Publisher’s
Weekly

Simon v
The Homo Sapiens Agenda
by Becky Albertalli

Odysseus
Abroad
by Amit Chaudhuri

Young
Eliot: A Biography
by Robert Crawford (NF)

A
Scourge of Vipers
by Bruce De Silva

The Lady
from Zagreb
by Philip Kerr

A Heart
Revealed
by Josi S. Kilpack

The
American People: Vol. 1: Search for My Heart
by Larry Cramer

The
Sympathizer
by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Between
You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen
by Mary Norris (NF)

The
Children’s Crusade
by Ann Packer

I Refuse by Per
Petterson

Essay A
Critical Memoir
by Donald Revell

Essay: A Critical Memoir by Donald Revell (Omnidawn) – Revell (Tantivy), in his 12th poetry
collection (which is actually more of a hybrid essay/memoir/prose poem),
reminds readers that “hesitation and delay must never be mistaken for rest.” At
turns memoir and literary analysis, allegory and reenactment, this fragmented and
deeply personal exploration of memory and literature’s place in the soul
resembles a type of scrapbook book that asks, “Who’s crazy? Whose pomp is
prophetic?” Revell’s prose is a contemplative, forceful incorporation of
disparate elements: a dervish at half speed that absorbs and refigures Dante,
Thoreau, Shakespeare, old photographs, the Vietnam War, and more into a love
letter to reading, a pageant of deliberate contemplation and devotion. “Am I
afraid to cross over the river without my Virgil—my allusions, my heralds and
cross-references? I must read more. Am I afraid to die? I must love more.”
Unable to contain itself, Revell’s work challenges and denies more than just
its generic conventions; it takes to task the notion that reading and
storytelling can be anything less than transformative—which therefore makes
them essential.


I Will
Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives
by
Cailin Alifirenka and Martin Garda  (NF)

The
Turner’s House
by Angela Flournoy

The
Buddha’s Return
by Gaito Gazdanov

The
Truth Commission
by Susan Juby

The
Fisherman
by Chigozie Obioma

The Dead
Lands
by Benjamin Percy

All the
Rage

by Courtney Summers

The
Stranger Vine
by M.J. Carter

Lulu
Anew

by Etienne Davodeau

The
Cherokee Rose: A Novel of Gardens and Ghosts
by Tiya Miles

So
You’ve Been Shamed
by Jon Ronson

Ordinary
Light
by Tracy Smith (memoir)

Black
Dove, White Raven
by Elizabeth Wein
 
Compiled by Nancy Brisson

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty – Book

The
Husband’s Secret
in the novel of that name by Liane Moriarty is
not what you think – at least it is not any of the secret hidden things I
thought of. But John-Paul Fitzpatrick, the oldest of five hunky Fitzpatrick
brothers did not want his wife Cecelia to find out about this secret until
after he was dead.

All of the characters in this book are tied together by a
Catholic school, St. Angela’s in Sydney, Australia. Some went to this school as
children. Some are grown up and have children who now attend this school.
Some of the people are staff at this school.

Will and Tess are in a marriage that has seemed smooth but
has suddenly become rocky due to a secret that Will and Tess’s cousin Felicity
are keeping. This situation is complicated by the fact that Will, Tess and
Felicity own an online company together and because Will and Tess have a son,
Liam. Tess takes Liam out of school in Melbourne and goes home to her mom in
Sydney where she enrolls him in St. Angela’s.

Rachel, a secretary at the school, who seems to keep St.
Angela’s running, lost her daughter Janie when her daughter was in her early teens. Her
son Rob and daughter-in-law Lauren are just getting ready to take her grandson,
her only solace, Jacob to NYC. Someone strangled Janie all those years ago and
Rachel thinks she knows who.

Liane Moriarity asks some of the same questions we found in
Herman Koch’s books. What would you do to protect your family? How far would
you go? She also deals with the equilibrium-destroying role that secrets can
play in our lives. She does not have the sophistication or the edge of the
Dutch author, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a good book. The author just
takes a somewhat lighter approach to some very serious life events. She gives us an
omnipotent narrator who explains why many of the life shattering events that
cause great guilt and pain for our characters were not necessarily ever
accurately perceived. We, the readers, are the only ones who are allowed to
know it all.

I like some of the techniques Moriarty uses in this book
which are not literary techniques we see a lot. At the beginning of the story
we are with Cecelia and her three daughters who happen to be listening to The Biggest Loser on TV. Later we learn
that Tess’s cousin Felicity has always been overweight until she went on The Biggest Loser and lost a lot of
weight. Liane Moriarty’s world is a small one, where everyone is even closer
than that famous “six degrees of separation”.

The technique she uses in the beginning of the story
reminds me of the mirrors that are set up to offer an infinite image of the
same scene which keeps receding and getting smaller, a scene within a scene
within a scene. We also have Janie, the murdered teen giving us her view of
what happened in her life that fateful last day. I sometimes love that modern authors go
beyond the wall that exists between life and death to allow the dead to speak.
Speaking of walls we also have Cecelia’s daughter Esther whose current passion
is to learn all she can about the Berlin Wall. She and her mother get caught up
in the stories of those who try to escape, some successfully, some not, and
there we have that question again – what would you be willing to do for your
family. She goes one step further than Herman Koch and asks how would you feel
if your choice had unexpected repercussions?

There is plenty we haven’t discussed just in case you think
I gave away the whole story. What is the connection to Pandora? Who is the
Little Spider Man? What is a pavlova? How is Tupperware a thing? Does our
universe exact retribution? At how many points could this story have changed it
people hadn’t kept secrets? I say that this novel seems light but is well worth
reading and plumbs some depths in spite of the fact that the characters seem
like our friends and neighbors. Lots of people agree that this is a very good
book, enough people, in fact, to make it a best seller.
By Nancy Brisson

Snow – a book by Orhan Pamuk

Snow is one of those books that is not for pleasure readers. It is for readers who like to get insights into other cultures. In Snow a man returns to his hometown in Turkey and the events described in his story could not be more foreign to us. The Byzantine streets, buildings and human relationships give us a glimpse of a culture in crisis.

One of the key dramas in Turkey at the time , and, I believe, still, is the issue of head scarves for women. As the only outward vestige of their religion head scarves are considered sacred by some Turkish women. When the schools banned head scarves the suicide rates among young women climbed. The author wants to establish a direct connection between the suicides and the ban on head scarves which apparently the government denies. Needless to say, many obstacles are placed in his path. See is he makes it out alive. See if he reconnects with his former love. Stay with the book, it’s not an easy book, but it is memorable.