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Aussie Book Review: Nightingale by Fiona McIntosh

“Love comes out of nowhere for most of us, when we least expect it . . . this young man has flown into your heart and made a nest.’

“Amidst the carnage of Gallipoli, British nurse Claire Nightingale meets Australian Light Horseman Jamie Wren. Despite all odds, they fall deeply in love. Their flame burns bright and carries them through their darkest hours, even when war tears them apart.  

Jamie’s chance meeting with Turkish soldier Açar Shahin on the blood-stained battlefield forges an unforgettable bond between the men. It also leaves a precious clue to Jamie’s whereabouts for Claire to follow.

Come peacetime, Claire’s desperate search to find Jamie takes her all the way to Istanbul, and deep into the heart of Açar’s family, where she attracts the unexpected attention of a charismatic and brooding scholar.

In the name of forgiveness, cultures come together, enemies embrace and forbidden passions ignite – but by the breathtaking conclusion, who will be left standing to capture Nurse Nightingale’s heart?  
A heart-soaring novel of heartbreak and heroism, love and longing by a powerhouse Australian storyteller. “
“It is a reminder that the men and women who put their lives on the line in defence of our country are owed a special debt and a special understanding” – John Howard, Former Prime Minister

Set against the backdrop of the Great War of 1914-18 and thereafter as everyone tries to piece back their lives, this sweeping story will take you from Cairo to Alexandria, England to Constantinople (Istanbul), where a brave Australian Light Horseman and a gentle nurse will unexpectedly find one another amidst the depravity and bloodshed of war. But, once the war is over, will they be afforded the opportunity of reuniting?
Twenty-five year old Claire Nightingale, a gentle but lonely British girl is one of the nurses on the hospital ship Gascon positioned just off Gallipoli. With no family to speak of, she has found her place in the war and tirelessly tends to the gravely injured men transported to the wards on the ship. While the soldiers’ boots have barely left their prints on the damp Turkish sand, she sees firsthand the devastation being wrought and requests time on shore to perform triage. For Claire, she is willing to give up her life if it means that she can save someone who has a family to go back to.
Jamie Wren is earnestly making his way to the beach in Anzac Cove with his severely injured friend Spud over his shoulders when he thinks he sees an apparition of an Angel before him. A selfless young Australian man from the Flinders Ranges, he was the only one out of his brothers conscripted to go to war as part of the Ninth Light Horse Brigade, only to discover that instead of being mounted, he would be placed in the trenches at Gallipoli. Thoughts of home and the camaraderie and gallows humour amongst the young men keep him going, despite the maggot-infested food and the stench of rotting bodies that surrounds him.
As he collapses on the beach with Spud, urging anyone who hears him to render medical assistance to his friend, Claire notices him and immediately makes her way over. Alas, for Spud, it is too late but for Jamie and Claire, an instant connection is made. Discovering that Jamie is also injured she suggests he seek medical assistance aboard the ship. At first he refuses, thinking only of his friend, but it’s not long after that he has a change of heart and realises that he wants to see her again.
Throughout their time in Gallipoli, Claire finds herself tending to him twice and as they get to know each other they form a strong bond and a promise is made. Unfortunately the war rages on and they lose contact with one another as they both continue to immerse themselves in their war efforts. Her fleeting memories and the promise they made to each other are what carry Claire through but, it is the brief friendship struck between Jamie and Acar Shahin, in the trenches, during the armistice to clear the dead bodies in “No Man’s Land”, that underpins the whole story. Ultimately it will either bring these two dislocated souls together or tear them apart as Claire’s desperate search for Jamie takes her on a journey that crosses cultural boundaries and uncovers forbidden passions.
Before I read Fiona McIntosh’s The Lavender Keeper (my review here), I wasn’t very fond of historical fiction but thanks to her as well as my fascination for my adopted country’s history, my horizons are expanding. Of course, add a touch of romance and I’m hooked.
For those unfamiliar with Fiona’s writing, don’t expect straight-out romance. As in the Lavender Keeper, the underlying storyline definitely holds romance, but the experiences that her protagonists face, both during and post-war, are in no way romanticised. In Nightingale, she strongly realises the depictions of life in the trenches, war hospitals and the after-effects of war, placing you firmly within her characters lives, as she explores various themes ranging from friendship, loyalty, honour, loss, kinship and bravery to love. Her exposition brings her scenes to vivid life and, for her multitude of fans out there, I can guarantee that you won’t be disappointed with her latest offering.
Fiona’s vast amount of research is an additional factor which evokes much authenticity in her stories, and it is the story of a real life trooper, Darcy Roberts (a relative of her husband’s family), whose name is immortalised in the Wall of Remembrance at Anzac Cove, from whose life she borrows in constructing Jamie’s story. That research goes even further, giving us insight into the lives of those selfless war nurses whose stories are not often told.
From the war-torn regions of Turkey to the dusty streets of Egypt, the sodden streets of London to the exotic culture and sultry atmosphere of the ornately gilded Hammams in a Constantinople rich with tradition and historic detail, the tastes of Turkish Delight and the scent of Rose Otto will fill your senses as you explore the many layers of this passionately wrought love story with its roots planted firmly within historical events.
I wish to thank Penguin Australia and The Reading Room for providing me with a hard copy uncorrected proof.
A Little About the Author

Fiona McIntosh is an internationally bestselling author of novels for adults and children. She is a columnist for News Corp’s Escape supplement and co-founded an award-winning travel magazine
with her husband, which they ran for fifteen years before she became a full-time author.
Fiona now roams the world researching and drawing inspiration for her novels. Although Adelaide is her family’s home, she admits her best writing is done from the peace of Tasmania.

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