Both books I'm reviewing today take place during World War II, but each story has a different aspect. However, they are both harrowing reads and likely to leave an imprint on your heart and mind.
Both synopses courtesy of Amazon.
Shadows Over Paradise by Isabel Wolff
(UK title: Ghostwritten)
Sometimes the only way forward is through the past.
Jenni Clark is a ghostwriter. She loves to immerse herself in other people’s stories—a respite from her own life, and from a relationship that appears to be nearing its end. Jenni’s latest assignment takes her to a coastal hamlet in England, where she’s agreed to pen the memoir of an elderly farm owner named Klara. Jenni assumes the project will be easy: a quiet, ordinary tale of a life well lived.
But Klara’s story is far from quiet. She recounts the tale of a family torn apart by World War II, and of disgraceful acts committed against a community in the Japanese prison camps on the Pacific island paradise of Java. As harrowing details emerge and stunning truths come to light, Jenni is compelled to confront a secret she’s spent a lifetime burying.
I've read two of Isabel Wolff's novels prior to this one, so when I heard this was being released, I was more than eager to obtain a copy. While her previous stories have prepared me for her use of sadness and heartbreak to weave a beautiful tale, Shadows Over Paradise was on the dark and intense side and not always easy to read as a mother. Still, it reminded me of The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult and gave me a new perspective on the war, as I learned that Jewish people weren't the only ones in concentration camps. (This is also aside from the other minorities who were also put in camps or poorly treated due to their differences, such as those with disabilities.) I didn't know there were camps in Java and that people were treated similarly to those in concentration camps. The horrors they went through were unimaginable, but I could tell that Isabel did a lot of research to bring this story to life. Both Jenni and Klara were very likable and you could tell that they had a lot of stored up memories that were hurting them even in the present. Throughout the story, there were many interesting surprises and twists. However, Isabel tended to put in a lot of foreshadowing statements, which I didn't feel were necessary. Overall, Shadows Over Paradise was well written and compelling. Isabel was very sensitive with her material while also making everything easy for the reader to visualize. I definitely want to read some of her earlier novels, as she's won me over once again.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.
In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France...but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.
Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can...completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.
The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France.
Kristin Hannah's latest novel was well worth the almost-two-year wait since her previous book was released. This time, she tells a war story that seems similar to Winter Garden at first, but then goes in a completely different direction. I had read some of the stories about World War II and the Holocaust happening in France, such as Sarah's Key and The Sweetness of Forgetting. However, this one comes from an outsider's perspective of the Holocaust and also shows the war's impact on all citizens of France. Kristin really has put forth a labor of love through both research and a natural talent for storytelling. I do need to warn you that there is a lot of graphic imagery in this novel that may be unsettling to a more sensitive reader. It is also very sad at times, although uplifting in the long run. I'm not a history buff and politics tend to go over my head, so some parts of the story felt confusing to me. That happens when I read books about war though, and someone else might understand the same things I had difficulty with. Overall, it was an incredibly told and compelling novel that I've been recommending ever since I finished reading. While Kristin doesn't cast her novels in her head, I had two very distinct visualizations for who should play the leading ladies in a movie version (which would be as amazing as the book, I'm sure).
Vianne: Evelyne Brochu (If you've seen Orphan Black, you'll know exactly why I chose her)
Isabelle: Mackenzie Mauzy (I had her in mind even before I saw Into the Woods)
I also was picturing Gaby Hoffman as Vianne's best friend, Rachel.
Thanks to Isabel Wolff and St. Martin's Press (respectively) for the books in exchange for an honest review.
More by Isabel Wolff:
More by Kristin Hannah: