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Book Review: Jasmine Nights

September 5, 2012

Jasmine Nights
Julia Gregson
Simon & Schuster 416 pages
Thanks to Justina Batchelor for sending me a copy.

A historical setting is a good way to draw me into reading a romance. This story is set in World War II, in various places in the Middle East and Africa. Half-Turkish and half-English, Saba Tarcan begins singing for the British troops as much to escape her home life in Cardiff Bay, Wales, as to use her talents to boost troop morale. Singing for wounded soldiers in the hospital, she meets Dom Benson, a wounded soldier. They’re intrigued with each other, but not sure where the war effort will take them, as Saba goes on a singing tour in Africa, and Dom gets ready to fly again.

The story builds from Dom and Saba’s viewpoints, showing the war from each of their perspectives, and then weaving together when they are able to meet. All the characters are well constructed, easy to picture, with foibles and some comic touches tempering the earnestness of the war effort.

Although I was pleased by the somewhat ensemble cast surrounding Dom and Saba, what I enjoyed most about this story was the chance to see events and experiences of World War II that I hadn’t known about. I’d had some dim knowledge that there was fighting in Africa, but no real idea of the scope and the location of it. Dom and Saba’s paired stories invite me into two worlds. Dom’s, all adrenaline and sand and gasoline, and Dom reaching an uneasy peace with the feeling that he really loves flying, seeking out the risk no matter how much the people he loves matter to him. Saba, traveling as a performer, stays in plush hotels, wears lavish dresses, and attends parties, and feels strange inhabiting a decadent sphere, in contrast to the rationing of the war effort at home. I gather, Saba’s character is based on real women who worked as entertainers and also spies, going to parties, and reporting on what they saw when they were busy being beautiful. It makes sense, but I really had no idea about this aspect of the war effort. (I remember I liked The Information Officer, by Mark Mills, for a similar reason, showing me a side of the war I hadn’t known.)

Some of the romance and its conflicts rang strange for me, though they seemed no more contrived than a typical romance plot. More, constructed to suit the genre.

Then again, I’m possibly not a typical romance reader… I read romances for the social and historical setting more than the actual plot.

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