If you’ve hit my blog today, it goes without saying that you’re an avid reader, too. Welcome! My husband and I write together as Adriana Kraft, and you can browse our website and links to learn more about what we write.
When you read, do you typically stick to a single genre? Widely different genres? A Potpourri? I’m pretty eclectic, myself, and a lot of my pleasure-reading is in genres outside romance: history, biography, historical fiction, contemporary mainstream fiction. My Kindle says I have a 236 day reading streak. I don’t doubt that. I thought I’d share some of my favorites from time to time, in no particular order.
I’ll start with the book that got my current kick started, and one of the few in recent years I’ve read a second time: The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah.
I love historical fiction, and I especially love when the main events are based on something that really happened. I’ve also long been drawn to novels (and history) about World War II, although I didn’t know that was a focus of this work when I started reading it. It was gifted to me by a close friend when I’d just had carpal tunnel surgery on my right wrist, and the surgeon had been unable to do it laparoscopically. I was functionally laid up and unable to write for several days.
I found this to be a five-star book, from start to finish. I’m a fast reader, but this was to be savored, even as I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. Since my first reading, I’ve pondered what the elements were that drew me into the story and back again for another round.
As a writer, I especially admired the structure Hannah used to present her story. She opens in 1995, in the reflective memories of one of the main characters. Here are that character’s opening lines:
If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.
Hannah does not tell us in that scene which of her two main characters is sharing memories – in fact, that discovery, towards the end of the book, is part of the book’s brilliance. We learn what happens across the war years, but we are never clear whose memory and present life we occasionally drop in on in the nineties. So part of the appeal of this book for me is its structure, both the weaving across the five-decade jump in time span, and the secrecy (one of many secrets) about whose memories and current life we are reading.
Two other aspects of the book are equally responsible for my “must read” (and re-read) recommendation. The first of these is her use of language. Of course it’s no surprise that a best-selling author creates magic with her words. When after the first 1990s scene she drops us into the bucolic setting of the Loire valley in 1939, I wanted to be there, in spite of knowing what was coming. Throughout, the text is rich, precise, inviting, invoking, equally powerful when the story is poignant or when it’s devastating. As always when I read a WWII story, there are some things I’d rather not see so clearly, but it’s important. We must never forget.
The final crucial feature of this book for me is that it tells a true story, in the broad sense of that word. During World War II, there were real people who experienced everything Hannah wrote. Everything. Her characters are not the actual heroes who did all those things, but nothing they’ve done across the span of the war was made up. It is all based on Hannah’s careful research and thorough understanding of Nazi-occupied France, Vichy France, and the countless stalwart, courageous ordinary citizens who risked everything to become resisters. Some, but not all, of the secrecy that pervades the story is driven by this fact: resisters must hide what they are doing. To reveal to the wrong person will cost lives – theirs, and those of countless others.
So I will close with another reflection from the opening scene: “As I approach the end of my years, I know that grief, like regret, settles into our DNA and remains forever a part of us.” Some of Hannah’s story is true about the past, but much of it, as this awareness, is equally true of the present.