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LIGHT PERPETUAL

Entertaining and unconventional.

This richly imagined mosaic tracks the lives five Londoners might have experienced if they hadn’t been killed as children by a V-2 rocket during World War II.

It starts with a bang in an almost poetic description of the German weapon’s inner workings and the utter havoc it wreaks. Spufford notes in a postscript the historical source of his opening scene: the 1944 bombing of a London Woolworths that killed 168, including 15 children. As god-novelist, he undoes death and gives five young victims an escape clause, “some other version of the reel of time, where might-be and could-be and would-be still may be.” It’s a device that might recall Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life but with only one-time reincarnations. After we get a school-days view of the quintet in 1949, they are shown in their separate adult lives—with occasional intersections—every 15 years through 2009. Jo has a moment of pop stardom, Alec endures the union struggles on Fleet Street, Val finds love and darkness with a skinhead, Vern plays con man and real estate mogul, and Ben teeters on the edge of mental collapse. The precis doesn’t do it justice. While the view is fragmentary and full of gaps, the characters are complex, engaging, memorable. Spufford does indeed bring them to life. He also brings depth and detail to every vignette, from a boy’s view of soccer to hot-lead typesetting, a neo-Nazi concert, or a trip on a double-decker bus. There’s a subtle theme on the war’s legacy woven from references to building and rebuilding. The bigger threads are people and family, change and time, how we hurt, love, and use each other and find or lose ourselves while our brief lives evolve in “a messy spiral of hours and years.”

Entertaining and unconventional.

Pub Date: May 18, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982174-14-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

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. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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