Scholarly precision in an artful, fluid, compelling narrative: Vive la reine!

FAREWELL, MY QUEEN

A former reader to Marie-Antoinette recalls July 1789, in an edifying and masterly first novel, winner of the Prix Femina.

Living in Vienna in 1810, elderly Agathe-Sidonie Laborde recounts her gossamer memories in Versailles as Marie-Antoinette’s deputy reader. Specifically, she recounts the haunting hours of July 14, when news reached Versailles that the Parisian mobs had stormed the Bastille, to her flight with the Queen’s favorite, Gabrielle de Polignac, to the Swiss border two days later. Laborde is a fly-on-the-wall observer of the grand, nearly surreal spectacle of Louis XVI’s court, where time is calibrated obsessively by the King’s Levee, reading of the daily temperature, hunts, meals, and Couchee. Occasionally, Laborde is called to the Queen’s bedchamber, where the devoted servant reads Marivaux or extracts from the Magazine of New French and English Fashions while feeding on the entrancing sight of her royal mistress. The days of July spread panic: the King has dismissed his Minister of Finance, sent away his army of foreign soldiers, and capitulated to the National Assembly. The “list of 286 heads that have to fall” is read by the terrified courtiers; Laborde is summoned to the Queen’s chambers to extract her jewels from their settings in order to flee with them to Metz—an escape that never occurs. French scholar and biographer Thomas (The Wicked Queen: The Origins of the Myth of Marie-Antoinette, 1999) fashions terrific suspense while providing delicious characterizations—like the cynical, mockingly powerful Diane de Polignac—and sinister touches like the slattern Panic serving the gluttonous King a dead rat. Though stung by the desertion of the royalty and horrified at the savagery of the mob, Laborde doesn’t lose her literary composure: “I have witnessed the erecting of something like an immense and perfect monument to the glory of the King, and now I was conscious only of the cracks already splitting it . . . .”

Scholarly precision in an artful, fluid, compelling narrative: Vive la reine!

Pub Date: June 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-8076-1514-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Braziller

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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