The Nightingale and It’s What I Do

Hi, I’ve been out of the loop for awhile traveling. We had a great time touring around Southern California going on some bike rides and spending time in San Diego, the town of Julian, Borrego Springs, Redlands (my hometown), and Temecula. We got rained on a few days, which was unusual, but I know California could use all the moisture it can get, so I won’t complain (too much).

I love the desert, which sort of feels like home to me, and we usually try to get out there once a year as a reprieve from the long Canadian winters.

It was beginning to bloom in Borrego Springs, and many areas including the canyons were quite green from all the rain in California this winter. Even the Salton Sea, the large dying lake out in the desert along the San Andreas Fault, had apparently risen a bit, according to the park ranger there.

In San Diego, we stayed and toured around Coronado Island and visited the USS Midway Museum — the huge aircraft carrier that operated for 47 years and saw action in the Vietnam War as well as serving as the Persian Gulf’s flagship in 1991’s Operation Desert Storm.

It’s fascinating to tour the ship that was once a City on the Sea to a crew of more than 4,000. It was fully equipped with a dentist and doctor’s office, a laundry department that handled 43,000 pounds of clothes a week, a Post Office, a brig, and six galleys that served 13,500 meals a day, oh my. In case you’re wondering, the ship is more than three football field lengths long, but still could cruise at a speed of 33 knots or 38 mph — fast enough to water ski behind. Pretty incredible. I’m pleased I didn’t get lost aboard.

Meanwhile on the trip I read Kristin Hannah’s 2015 bestselling novel “The Nightingale.” I’m aware I’m late to the party on this popular story about two French sisters in German Occupied France during WWII. You remember Isabelle, the resistance fighter based in Paris, and her sister Vianne at home in the countryside with her daughter, billeted with a German soldier. Both sisters (who are quite different from one another) do their best, trying to survive the war and end up helping others in the process. These are scary days indeed. There are grisly things that happen in their lives, make no mistake that this is a lightweight book in that regard.

I know the novel might be considered historical fiction-lite or historical romance, but it was an absorbing page-turner while on my trip. The reading level was pretty easy, YA level perhaps, and it flowed along at a speedy pace. I thought the storytelling was well done and I was caught up in the sisters keeping alive during the war. The story did not sag for me, despite being a good-sized saga. Apparently Isabelle is based on the real life story of 19-year-old Andree de Jongh, a Belgian woman who helped hundreds of Allied aviators escape by escorting many over the Pyrenees on foot. Like Isabelle, she too spent time at Ravensbruck concentration camp. As you might have guessed “The Nightingale” is slated to be made into a movie, but who will star as the French sisters? — that is the question. Any picks for the actresses?

I’ve read about Occupied France in the recent novels by Sebastian Faulks, Anthony Doerr, and Irene Nemirovsky’s “Suite Francaise,” and “The Nightingale” captured and daunted me as well. On top of that, I’m listening this week to the audiobook of the true story of “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” set in Poland during WWII; how much more can I take of these crimes against humanity? If I survive this one, I’ll look to get out of Occupied Europe for awhile in my reading.

While away, I also finished the audiobook of Lynsey Addario’s 2015 memoir “It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War.” The author has photographed for the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, and National Geographic among other publications, and has covered dangerous conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and the Congo. You name it, she’s been there. This memoir tells of her life becoming a photojournalist and of her days on the road in these far-flung places doing the job that she so obviously loves doing, and is driven to do.

I thought the book was told quite candidly, not as a photo expert but more about how her career unfolded as well as her fears, insecurities, and drive to be taken seriously in a male-dominated profession. It also delves into her personal life and how she struggled to try to find a balance between that and her work life. Her travels in this book are quite astounding, and the stories she tells of her photo assignments in dangerous places are pretty hairy; she gets injured and almost killed on a few occasions. Her memoir sheds light on journalists putting their lives on the line to do their jobs and unearth the truth.

I was quite amazed by how driven she is in the book (obviously she’s greatly accomplished at what she does) and it reminded me of the journalists I worked with while at the Washington Post as a copy editor. We often talked to our co-workers while they were in the field over questions or updates on their stories. I remember those busy days and reading about the foreign conflicts Addario talks about.

Some of her choices I thought were pretty crazy, especially traveling to risky places while pregnant and shortly thereafter. It seemed quite nuts to me; for a couple decades it appears she never said No to an assignment, despite the risks or constant travel involved. Still she’s made her life work for her. As I said, I listened to this as an audiobook, which I liked, but then I went to her website to see her photographs, which is a must to get the full experience of what she’s spent her life doing. All in all, I thought it was a thought-provoking memoir, and especially would be liked by those who are interested in  journalism or conflict photography.

Lastly we rented two movies on the trip, “Patriots Day,” which was a passable movie about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing starring Mark Wahlberg among others. I judged it to be slightly above a TV kind of true-story movie, which follows the details of the case pretty closely. It grabs at the emotions pretty well but is not something I would normally go out of my way to see.

We also saw the pretty weird thriller “Nocturnal Animals” with Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal about a wealthy art gallery owner who’s haunted by her ex-husband’s new novel. Have you seen this one? It starts off pretty scary and disturbing portraying the story from the novel then flashes back to their days together. I can’t say much more about it without ruining the story, though it does have one of those huh? kind of endings. Some will like it, others will not. I’m still wondering if it really worked.

What about you, have you read these books or seen these movies — and if so what did you think?

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26 Responses to The Nightingale and It’s What I Do

  1. Judy Krueger says:

    Your trip sounds like it was great. I love Julian and that whole area. My husband once had a gig there with one of his bands and we spent the weekend. It was after one of those big fires and we saw the damage amidst the beginnings of regrowth.
    I liked the Nightingale. Though it was a bit too bestsellerish to me, it did keep me engaged. Of course I loved Isabelle!
    The best photojournalist tale I have read was The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli, set in Vietnam. It does seem like almost an addiction to danger with that profession but what they capture is essential to the news stream.
    I have not seen Nocturnal Animals yet but it is coming on Netflix. I am prepared for it to be weird!
    Great post! I am glad you didn’t get lost on the USS Midway but your trips seem to do you good.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Judy, thanks the trip was good. We liked Julian too quite a bit unfortunately on that Monday we got there it rained about 4 inches and was 36 degrees on top of the mountain there so we had to hunker down in the deluge. Thx for the tip about The Lotus Eaters — I will check it out sometime. Addario seemed definitely addicted to danger & her profession; not sure I related to it fully. I warn you that Nocturnal Animals is scary/disturbing near the beginning — it’s rough! but then mellows after those parts. I think it worked, but my husband didn’t like it much.

  2. Ti says:

    Sounds like you had a good trip. The weather was weird, huh? This week is gorgeous. 75-88 all week long.

    I’ve not read Hannah’s books before. You mentioned Historical Fiction lite. I totally get that from her books even though I haven’t read them. I don’t know, the blurbs always seem a little too romantic in nature for my liking.

    • Susan Wright says:

      I know Ti — we seemed to miss the right week to be in California. All the good weather was getting there when we left, ugh. But still it was better than here. Yeah I have never read a Hannah book but The Nightingale was so popular I wanted to check it out. It was an easy speedy read, probably not for everyone, but I’m glad I read it. The storytelling & subject matter was worth it. From what critics have said, it raised the bar from her usual books.

  3. Viv says:

    Pleased you had a great holiday to escape the YYC deep freeze! I’m so glad you have reviewed The Nightingale – as I have it sitting next to my cottage bed for 2 years now, so I will definitely pick it up and give the storytelling my full attention! Thanks for this review! Take care Susan!

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Vivienne, one more week of this deep freeze, ugh!! I think The Nightingale is worth it, and is not a complex read; the pages go by seamlessly. We’ll have to get together for a dog walk once the freeze is over. Got to catch up. Stay warm, S

      • Viv says:

        Yes, have started Nightingale – nice easy read. We are in ON but coming back once house sells to pack up – I’ll be in touch when I know when we are coming back to meet up for a final walkies in YYC. Stay warm!

        • Susan Wright says:

          Okay, I didn’t realize you were there. Definitely get in touch when you’re back here. It’s warmed up here this week! I hope you’re enjoying it there.

  4. Welcome back, Susan. I loved reading your travel diary. It makes me explore the USA from my comfortable sofa… hahahaha… Excellent book reviews. I do not know any of these books and it is the same for the films. Have a great weekend ahead 🙂

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi RT, thanks, it was a good trip. My travel diary is not as good as yours but I am learning. 🙂 We are back to the snows now in Canada — it’s brutally cold this week but should be more like spring next week. Cheers to you!

  5. Carmen says:

    It’s good to have you back! I have The Nightingale on my TBR but I’m not in a hurry to read it. I also have Nocturnal Animals waiting in my queue to be watched either this weekend or the upcoming week. In any case I want to review it along with a few more movies.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Carmen, thanks! It’s nice to be home. I’ll be interested to see what you think about Nocturnal Animals. I think it did work in the end but it is an odd one.

  6. Brian Joseph says:

    It looks and sounds like you had a great trip.

    Addario’s book sounds very good. Both photojournalists and print journalists play such a key role in our society. They are showing us reality of places both close and far. They often do so at great risk and sacrifice. I would like to read this book.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Brian, the trip was good. The photojournalist’s book reminded me of the dangers journalists face on a daily basis. Her book is filled with travel to dangerous places; I don’t know exactly how she did it all. Quite a whirlwind.

  7. JaneGS says:

    I found The Nightingale absorbing as well. I didn’t quite get the criticism it received–kept my interest, the story of both sisters was believable and compelling.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Oh good Jane. I’m glad we’re on the same page on this one. I thought it was quite a page-turning story. thx for stopping by.

  8. I haven’t been to LA or parts south of there in ages! My second son lives in LA…but he visits here pretty regularly.

    But one of my granddaughters is now a sophomore at San Diego State University…so I think that it would be fun to visit her some time. I spend a lot more time with my other granddaughter, and feel as though I’m neglecting Aubrey.

    But she may not want a “nana” visiting her stomping grounds, so I should ask, of course. lol.

    I loved The Nightingale, and recently read and enjoyed The Orphan’s Tale, which reminded me of Hannah’s book.

    Have a great week, and thanks for sharing. Here are MY WEEKLY UPDATES

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Laurel, San Diego is a big place, but also nice — yeah visiting your granddaughter there would be fun. It was our first trip to the area so sometime we’ll have to go back to explore more of the area. I didn’t know of The Orphan’s Tale — thanks for letting me know of it. Enjoy your week!

  9. Rachel says:

    The scenery in your photos is gorgeous! Sounds like it was a pretty good trip.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Thanks Rachel! It was a good trip. It really is gorgeous in the desert — Borrego Springs and Palm Springs area, especially in the spring!

  10. I love The Nightingale and enjoyed the additional research it led me to. I also was fascinated by the Zoo Keeper’s Wife. I cannot believe that WWII stories are still emerging.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi Anne, thanks for your comment. I’m glad you also liked both of these books. These survivors in the WWII stories are so strong; they amaze me. I will stop by your site soon. Cheers.

  11. I haven’t yet read The Nightingale, because the premise reminds me of Jojo Moyes’ The Girl You Left Behind, well, the part that is set in WWI. Nothing wrong with that; I just thought I didn’t need to read yet another book with that kind of story. But maybe I should give it a try.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Hi TJ: I’ve read both Moyes and Hannah’s book now. I think it’s good to take a break in between reading these books. They are a similar kinds of storytelling about WWII though the tales differ. I liked both but wouldn’t read them close together for the reasons you give. Thx for stopping by. Good to hear from you.

  12. I recently watched Nocturnal Animals and I’m so relieved I’m not the only one who went, “What?!” at the end. It felt kind of anticlimactic. Not my cup of tea.

    • Susan Wright says:

      Ha, yeah I knew the ending was just going to cut off like that! I guess Jake’s character was trying to get back at his ex-wife or make her see how he had felt by her actions, but it was still sort of like huh?! The start of the movie seems a bit terrifying or disturbing too; it’s a strange movie all around.

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