Monday, February 25, 2013

"The Secret of the Nightingale Palace"

Dana Sachs is the author of the novel If You Lived Here and two books of nonfiction, The House on Dream Street: Memoir of an American Woman in Vietnam and The Life We Were Given: Operation Babylift, International Adoption, and the Children of War in Vietnam.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Secret of the Nightingale Palace, and reported the following:
I had to laugh when I picked up The Secret of the Nightingale Palace and turned to page 69. As the title suggests, the novel is about secrets, not just the secrets we keep from each other, but also the secrets that we keep from ourselves—the ways in which we lie to ourselves to keep from facing the truth. There is, though, a pretty big secret (a real secret, not an emotional secret) that is barely hinted at until the end of the story.

Why did I laugh on page 69, then? Because I do see a hint there. It’s the kind of hint that is only going to be detected by those who have already read the book, but it is definitely there on that page. The novel follows a grandmother, Goldie, and her granddaughter, Anna, as they drive from New York to San Francisco to return a valuable collection of Japanese art to its former owners, a Japanese family who gave it to Goldie for safekeeping when they were sent to the internment camps during World War II. Anna can’t understand why Goldie has taken so long (sixty years!) to finally return the art, and Goldie isn’t telling.

This passage on page 69 begins a chapter called “A Famously Happy Marriage.” The beginning of the chapter describes Goldie’s relationship with her cellphone. At 85-years-old, she has a hard time with the technology, but “she loved everything about the phone, especially the caller ID and the option to press IGNORE if she didn’t want to answer. She still looked rattled and perplexed every time the phone rang, however.” An astute reader might sense a heightened level of anxiety about the telephone that isn’t fully explained by Goldie’s confusion about how to answer the thing. That anxiety, in my mind, comes from a worry that she could receive a call that she doesn’t want to answer when her granddaughter is listening. In other words, she’s got a secret to keep.
Learn more about the book and author at Dana Sachs's website, blog, and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue