Book: Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Touchstone / Simon & Schuster
Publication date: June 5, 2012
Source: Received for review from the publisher
Summary: Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson tells the story of Saba Tarcan, a singer living in Wales under the watchful eye of her Turkish father. Saba goes against her father’s wishes to join the Entertainments National Service Association or ENSA, an organization that played a similar role for British troops in World War II that the USO played for American ones. Her actions outside of the protective family fold bring her into contact with Dom Benson, an injured fighter pilot. Their mutual attraction is intense from the start, but her need to sing and his need to fly are equally strong. In the midst of war, where even young girl singers can be drawn into dangerous intrigue, who knows if their love or their lives will stay intact for the duration.
Thoughts: Aren’t the cover and title of this book deliciously exotic? I read the first fifty pages of Jasmine Nights with keen anticipation, waiting for the promise of that cover because the book starts in war-weary Cardiff and London. Finally, though, we reach Egypt. Cairo is war-weary, too, but the food is better and the smells and sights are strange and enticing.
I have a long time fascination with the USO. I suppose it must be rooted in my family’s loyal following of Bob Hope specials. Perhaps, I saw footage of earlier shows or maybe my parents told us that he had been performing for the troops since World War II. I’m just old enough that I might have seen broadcasts of his performances in Vietnam. When it became clear that Saba Tarcan would be going abroad to participate in similar shows for British troops in north Africa, I was hooked on Jasmine Nights.
In Egypt, Saba discovers that it is not all acrobats, love songs, and laughs. There’s a war on. Julia Gregson paints a vivid picture of the war from many perspectives — the entertainer, the pilot, the locals who don’t care much about sides, and the spy master who will recruit anyone who can give his side the advantage.
Appeal: There’s a romance in this novel, but it isn’t structured like a genre romance. It reads more like a coming-of-age novel for both the heroine, Saba, and the hero, Dom. I go back and forth on whether this will appeal to male readers. Not that it matters, so much — there are far too few World War II novels meant to appeal to women that Jasmine Nights is a welcome addition whether or not men would like it, too. There is enough history and enough male point of view in this book that I do think that men with an interest in the war in northern Africa or in the music of the time period would enjoy this book as much as women.
This is also an excellent novel to add to the new genre I’ve been hearing about, New Adult. The protagonist is 23 and her love interest isn’t much older. Saba deals with issues of how to be an adult under the shadow of parental disapproval and how to make a go at a fledgling career alongside her first real romance.
Reviews: Mason at Thoughts in Progress interviewed Julia Gregson about her research: Jasmine Nights Author Julia Gregson Talks About Writing.
Have you read this book? What did you think?