Audible

The Nightingale: How War Affects Women, How Women Affect A War

the nightingale

I started listening to Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale on audiobook and stopped several times this year. I would get through the first few chapters, as an older woman relays a tough childhood in France, then lose interest. I read a lot of books, I don’t really push through if they don’t capture my attention.

Recently, however, Audible named The Nightingale Audiobook of the Year, so I decided to give it another listen. And this isn’t a poor orphan story, but a war story. It’s a World War II story. And most importantly, it’s a lady story. A novel about how war affects women, and how women affect a war.

Author Hannah read about the roles of French women in the resistance during World War II, most notably Adrée de Jongh, who smuggled fallen airmen out of France through the Pyrenees mountains. She also read about women who quietly sheltered Jewish children or were forced to house German soldiers, and realized she had to tell these stories.

Her research helped her create The Nightingale‘s Vianne Mauriac, whose husband has left their small village to fight at the Front. While he’s gone, it is up to Vianne to tend to her small daughter, and find some way to survive with German soldiers who invade her home. Vianne’s younger sister, Isabelle, was rebellious before the war started. Once it begins, she is determined to join the resistance in any way she can.

Both these women will be tested in endless, exhausting ways. Isabelle flees from Paris in a gigantic, desperate swarm of refugees. Vianne’s best friend and next door neighbor is Jewish, and Vianne witnesses stricter and stricter restrictions placed upon her. I don’t often read historical fiction, but this book kept me going, equal parts horrified, intrigued, and entranced. I listened to this audiobook in the same time period that I watched Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, and it was Nazi overload. I would not recommend it. I’m now grateful I’m not living in Nazi-occupied France or Nazi-occupied America on the daily.

My main issue with the book, as powerful as it was, is the message that women after wartime don’t talk about their tragedies and triumphs. I guess you’ll have to read the book to know what I’m referring to here, but that a mother could keep such a large secret from her son seems odd to me. I’d be interested to know how everyone else felt about this message. I wonder if Hannah absorbed this from her research, that earlier generations were simply more stoic about doing what needed to be done? Anyways, check it out! Report back with your thoughts.

Also, movie rights for this one have been picked up so… that’s exciting!

The Nightingale on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

Review – Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill

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Next, we had to yell at square glass ashtrays at the top of our lungs. The idea was to train ourselves to express absolutely clear intentions, and by mastering this we’d be able to guide our future preclears to successfully confront things. And it didn’t end there. Directing our intentions into particular parts of the ashtray, we’d ask our ashtray very specific questions. The belief was, that whenever you asked a question, you had the intention of getting that question answered, as you should when you had a preclear in session. The ashtray was required to be square. We were to direct questions into each of its four corners.
“Are you an ashtray?”
“Are you a corner?”
“Are you made of glass?”
The same principles that we were trying to learn and understand as auditors were the principles that prevented us from questioning these ridiculous tasks. We’d been trained to follow instructions, just as we were now learning how to make others follow ours. Outlandish as all these tasks were, none of them ever struck me as odd, but remembering the scene now, they were. . . . All these courses were supposed to be about training auditors to be smooth with their communication, and less distracting to preclears in session. But the result is that it made all of us more robotic. It automated our responses, turning everything we said into a script.
-Beyond Belief, Jenna Miscavige Hill

Jenna Miscavige Hill (via)

Jenna Miscavige Hill was raised in an alternate reality, with its own hyper-abbreviated lingo, strict work ethic, and complicated belief system. She was raised as a Scientologist, and amazingly survived her bizarre upbringing of manual labor and indoctrination to leave the church and write a memoir, Beyond Belief. As Scientology is a relatively new development (started in 1952), it seems safe to assume these stories (and memoirs) may become more common as more children are raised in these situations, flee, then report back to the outside world what exactly they experienced inside the secretive church.

Beyond Belief is simply written, as Hill doesn’t spend much time waxing poetic. She documents her experience, and allows the reader to infer from her life what they choose. She repeated L. Ron Hubbard mantras over and over in what was called “Chinese School”; she and other kids did manual labor at the ranch they lived on, after class and on weekends; she saw her parents once or twice a year at times; and when she and others encountered the usual trials and tribulations of adolescence they were interrogated or banished. What seemed like fun and games to Hill as a young child began to cause pain and heartbreak as she aged and thought more independently.

Some of the situations recounted in Beyond Belief seem so ridiculous they are almost comical (Hill is asked to sign a one-billion year contract when she is seven years old), others are painful to read about. Much of Scientology’s power over its members seems to be derived from separating family members, and Hill struggles to communicate with family and loved ones throughout the book.

Certainly one of Hill’s intrigues is her last name. While both her parents held prominent positions in the church, her uncle, David Miscavige, ultimately took over the church and is still its leader today. Those seeking insider information regarding David Miscavige or an overview of the church’s intense and nefarious business dealings may want to look elsewhere before reading Beyond Belief. This is ultimately Jenna’s personal story, as it should be. For a thorough overview of the church, I suggest Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion by Janet Reitman (although I realize there is high praise for Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright I haven’t had a chance to read it yet). Without some background on the Church of Scientology, you may find yourself lost amidst all the practices unique to the church in Hill’s story: abbreviations and talks of preclears and auditing, which are explained briefly in Beyond Belief but examined in more detail elsewhere.

Even after reading other books about Scientology, I was surprised by how extreme Hill’s childhood experience was. She now works with the website Ex-Scientology Kids to provide support to others leaving the church. In this type of situation, where Scientology values its image so much and markets itself as a church, it does seem like one of the most powerful things to do is to make these voices heard.

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill on Amazon.com/Indiebound.org

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Review – Homeland: Phantom Pain by Glenn Gers

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“You are truly the worst terrorist I have ever met. With nonsense like that and your friends in the CIA. I thought you would be another spider, hiding under the rug, sneaking out to bite. I have met them, these soldiers of god. That’s not you. You’re not even a good patsy. You think too much for yourself. And you care so much about individuals! It’s all personal for you isn’t it? You’re a fucking civilian!”

Although perhaps just a small blip on the grand radar screen of the literary world, Homeland: Phantom Pain is an Audible.com release worth mentioning. Showtime and Audible came together to create this free 3o-minute audiobook, narrated by Sergeant Nicholas Brody himself, Damian Lewis. A noir glimpse into Brody’s journey between Seasons 1 and 2, Phantom Pain is a chance to see what we miss when we can only spend an hour a week with these characters.

Lewis is a fantastic narrator, which isn’t always a given when actors turn to story narration. We can’t forget Molly Ringwald’s bracing performance of The Middlesteins, in which it seemed she was gasping her way through each line almost desperate for the book to end. Lewis’s narration is understated but comes across as softer than he portrays his character on the show, and there is something irresistibly charming about him writing a letter to Carrie:  “I tried to imagine what you were doing at that very moment. All mussed up in your bed or all put together in your suit, with your ID tag clipped to the pocket.”  Lewis manages to convey emotion without distracting from the words he’s reading, which can be quite a challenge.  Narrators must walk a fine line between blasé and hokey, Lewis does it well.

The story here is poignant for both the main characters on the show, and emphasizes a bit of the love story that has been lost in this second season without getting sappy. I was skeptical of listening to this at all, even thought I downloaded it quite a while ago, as I thought a TV tie-in work of fiction would be pretty low quality. I think anyone who likes to read and watches the show will be pleasantly surprised, however. This isn’t an adventure style promo-piece, it is a great addition to the show that gives us a realistic glimpse into Brody’s struggle to come to terms with being the most wanted man in the world, traveling in foreign lands, with memorable and untrustworthy characters.

This would make sense with Homeland, as with many of the TV shows as of late. As Difficult Men, a book I recently reviewed noted, TV has gone through a sort of cultural renaissance. Where it was once considered fairly low brow (and certainly, much of it still is), TV shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire, and certainly Homeland can claim to be works of art on par with many movies or books. It would then make sense that this type of television translates more successfully into literature.

The buzz is that more of these stories are on the way… We can only hope! If you don’t have an Audible.com account and you like to read, I can’t suggest it enough. The company lets you return any audiobooks you don’t like, no questions ask. They also giveaway a lot of stuff (like this story). I double (at least) the amount of books I read by listening to audiobooks in the car, while I’m doing chores around the house, and while I’m taking walks or doing other exercise. I have a Bluetooth headset so I don’t have to worry about being connected to my phone. People often ask me how I read so much–and I do, certainly, I read a bunch. But I also listen!

Homeland:  Phantom Pain on Audible.com

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