Tuesday 23 April 2013

Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson

I received a proof copy of this book ages ago.  I put off reading it because I thought her previous novel, East of the Sun, was a prequel.  After reading that book and liking it well enough, I felt adequately prepared to move on to Jasmine Nights.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Jasmine Nights had absolutely nothing to do with East of the Sun.  

Jasmine Nights is set during the second World War and I must admit to suffering some literary WWII fatigue.  It seems that lately there is a glut of it on my bookshelves.  And regrettably, this book offered little additional insight although it did offer an alternative perspective.

The setting of North Africa  and the characters of a band of wartime entertainers, eg singers, magicians, comedians  was new to me.  However, the shattered families, the devastated countries, and the pursuit of a few moments of passion in the midst of chaos and hopelessness, is nothing new.  A singer falling in love with a soldier, stolen nights of tenderness, and a suitably romantic ending make this novel, ultimately, a bit cliched.

I enjoyed the plot and the timing of the novel.  I was compelled to keep reading. So all is not lost.  but the characters failed to jump off the pages and capture my imagination.  

I also enjoyed the place of the novel.  Cairo, in fact all of North Africa, is a place I dream of visiting but avoid because I am apprehensive about the security situation.  So instead I read about it.  Or watch films.  You can never see Casablanca too many times.  The difficulty of travelling in wartime is brought alive in the novel's pages.  In fact, Gregson does a superb job conveying the sense of despair and tragedy of the area.  

She also shines a very bright light on the unsavoury business and characters of wartime.  I loved the various eccentrics who populate the troupe of entertainers, all carrying the burden of past secrets, all running away from something or to something.  They were savvy, desperate, and very resourceful.

I will read more of Julia Gregson because I think she is a good writer.  I just hope she uses her imagination more when it comes to choosing a time.

I give this novel 3 stars out of 5.

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