The Secret of the Nightingale Palace takes readers on a cross-country road trip adventure from New York to San Francisco with 35-year-old Anna and her grandmother, the eccentric and fashionable Goldie Rosenthal. An artist who recently lost her husband to leukemia, Anna is surprised when she receives a phone call from her estranged grandmother Goldie, requesting that Anna meet her in New York to discuss an important opportunity.
Curious and intrigued by her grandmother's sudden request, Anna drops everything in Memphis and meets Goldie in New York, who ends up convincing Anna to driving her across country to San Francisco so she can return a priceless collection of Japanese art to its former owner. Desperate for a change in her unexciting, dreary life, Anna agrees to Goldie's proposal, and they begin to head west.
Along the way, Anna - and readers - learn more about Goldie's past, and her life in San Francisco during the 1940s, a life that Goldie had always kept secret from Anna. Additionally, Anna and Goldie manage to sort out their differences and make amends, but only after experiencing a few setbacks on the road that make them appreciate the other more than before. Eventually, Goldie influences Anna to want to move on and live a more exciting and fulfilling life, instead of burying herself in mourning for her late husband.
Everything about The Secret of the Nightingale Palace is beautiful - the novel is beautifully written, and beautifully executed. Goldie is elegant and mysterious, which makes her character endlessly inspiring. She has no regrets, and has worked all her life to achieve her high-class status, which explains her seemingly high-maintenance mannerisms.
The real beauty of this novel comes from Goldie's recounts of the past, and of her life spent in San Francisco during the 1940s. Anyone familiar with history during this time period can already guess that since Goldie has possession of a Japanese art collection, she must have had Japanese acquaintances during this time period that were most likely affected by racism and discrimination after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. As a reader, you can only imagine the potential horrendous outcome of Goldie's story - and of her Japanese friends.
One of my favorite side-stories in The Secret of the Nightingale Palace is Anna's experience with Dr. Naveen Choudary. Anna's persona takes a turn for the better when she meets this man, and I'll refrain from saying anything more to prevent spoilers.
Even the ending of The Secret of the Nightingale Palace is surprising and pleasing - I couldn't have predicted the outcome, or imagined a better ending. Overall, this novel is an exquisite treat that you'll remember for the days, or months, that follow. Don't miss out on this one!
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Have you read this novel, and if so, what did you think? What other road-trip novels have you read and enjoyed? What about novels that revolve around Japanese-Americans during WWII? Share your thoughts and comments with us below!