Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Valentine's Day, Casablanca and One Good Book

We just got back from a lovely holiday weekend in the beautiful wine country of Sonoma, California. It was the perfect place to celebrate Valentine's Day. Our "home away from home" was the Farmhouse Inn. It is all about rustic elegance at this inn, with plenty of beauty and a laid back vibe. They grow their own vegetables and keep chickens. Breakfasts were delicious and I am certain that the eggs in our frittatas were from the resident hens. There were several lazy afternoons spent reading on the beautiful deck. Not to mention lots of wine tastings! There are so many wineries to visit in the area as well as the delightful town of Healdsburg, that there is never a shortage of things to do. Though it seems that my favorite occupation just may be hanging out in the room in front of the fireplace.

In this relaxing atmosphere it was easy to finish the book I've been reading -- All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It is a gripping novel about the lives of Europeans during World War II, told from the perspectives of two young people -- Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind French girl living in German-occupied France and Werner Pfenning, a young German orphan whose talent in electronics gets him recruited into an elite Nazi training center. What is powerfully brought home is that both these children have very few choices in life as they get swept up into history. The book looks at the traumatic experiences of ordinary Europeans during the war.

Once the Germans were in power, all freedoms were gone. Anyone refusing to comply with the new rules were imprisoned or shot. For many people, that meant a life of subterfuge. The book shows how this played out in France. There is tremendous suspense as several characters get involved in the Resistance movement. There is also a 133-carat diamond at the center of the story that is hidden by Marie's father -- he is the locksmith in charge of all the keys and vaults at the Museum of Natural History in Paris -- and whose location only she knows. One of the Nazi officers makes it his mission to track this diamond down. All the stories converge in the walled seaside town of St. Malo in Brittany.

I was touched by the loneliness, despair and survival instincts of the central characters. It was particularly moving to watch children endure so many years of devastation. This story is gripping and the unique narrative style adds to the fast-paced nature of the novel. If you haven't read All The Light You Cannot See, be sure to get yourself a copy of this beautiful and poignant book.


After a delicious Valentine's Day dinner at the hotel on Saturday night we returned to our room to discover that Casablanca was on television. I had never seen this iconic film. Of course it was the perfect movie to watch on Valentine's day. But there was another fortuitous connection I didn't expect. As you know, this film is about a love affair between two people who meet in Paris during World War II. I hadn't realized that it was also about the resistance movement during the war. I couldn't get over the connections between the film and the book I had just finished. You have to love the last line of this film. As Rick (Humphrey Bogart) helps the resistance hero Victor Laszlo escape with the aid of the chief of police, Louis (and in the process gives up Ingrid Bergman!), he puts his arm around the policeman and says,

"Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Such a good film and it was so much fun to see it in the beautiful Farmhouse Inn!

By the way, on the topic of WWII, have you seen Grantchester on Masterpiece Mystery? It deals with the aftermath of the war and is set in England in the 1950's. It is a fabulous detective series featuring an English country vicar who has a talent for solving murder mysteries. Despite his role as spiritual leader of the village, he has a dark side. He fought in the war and is still suffering psychological damage. His memories result in nightmares, a drinking problem and a crisis of faith. He is in love with a woman who is engaged to someone else and it seems as if things cannot go on much longer without reaching some kind of a breaking point. It's astonishing how many dramas we watch and books we read that are about World War II and its aftermath. It makes me wonder if anyone has measured the quantity of art that has been based on this war.

I hope you will read All The Light We Cannot See and watch the television series Grantchester on PBS. In very different ways, they both transport you to another time and place when ordinary people had to deal with the results of extraordinary world events.


  1. What a rich Valentine's holiday you had and how beautifully you pull it all together here.
    "All The Light You Cannot See" is sitting, patiently, on my night table right now. I hope to get to it soon, especially after your review. I love Casablanca and have seen it many times and Grantchester is captivating, isn't it? I am finding I need to see it twice to absorb all that happens in each episode.
    What a provocative question you pose? I wonder, as well.

  2. Oh, you've done it again, Sunday! Another book to add to my pile :) It sounds a fascinating read. How wonderful to see Casablanca for the first time - that is one of my very favourite films, and a perfect one for Valentine's Day. I just started watching Grantchester and am really enjoying it!

    Miranda xxx

  3. I am completely, totally, besotted with Grantchester.
    "What the dickens???"

  4. One of the few books I've really enjoyed of late.

  5. Sunday, you really hit on several of my favorites. Our book group just read 'All the Light' and agreed we hadn't enjoyed a book as much since The Goldfinch. I love Healdsburg, I think as much as you do. I really must watch Grantchester; several friends have been quite taken with it.

  6. Found it a tad difficult to watch James Norton as the vicar in Grantchester after his performance as the psychopath in Happy Valley! Watching the tv series of Wolf Hall brilliant,not sure if it has reached you yet?
    What a fabulous way to spend a romantic Valentine's weekend :).

  7. Too funny Sunday! I just finished googling Casablanca fans and started thinking that it was time to see the movie again. I have Light We Cannot See on my night table. Happy to read your recco....and a friend recommended Grantchester to me at lunch today. We are on the same when that happens! xx

  8. I read All The Light We Cannot See hot on the heels of Suite Francaise and really, really enjoyed it. There was a scene towards the end that threw me and I had to read that part twice - I couldn't believe the author would do that to me! Echoing Pamela's comment about Grantchester....besotted.

  9. Sounds like a perfect Valentine's getaway. Like others, have the book on my nightstand, but have been obsessed with reading mysteries recently. So...Granchester sounds perfect. Just finished bingeing on The Fall, which is very dark, but I enjoyed it a lot. I'm not sure about your question, but I do know that WWl was a catalyst for a huge amount of art, my guess would be that all big wars are?

  10. DO you know I haven't seen that movie either!
    I am surrounded by books on SISSINGHURST at the moment.......THANKS TO YOU and cannot add another but it sounds like a wonderful read!
    Once again I noted you were in my backyard!

  11. Sunday, Your Valentine's weekend sounds fabulous. "All the Light We Cannot See" is a wonderful read. I have listed it as the best book I read in 2014. There is nothing better than curling up in front of a fire with a wonderful book. Enjoy the weekend. Hugs! Bonnie

  12. Amazing when subjects come together with such cosmic synergy. Love and creativity are part of the process that heals the wounds of war. If only the latest conflicts would end so that we could see what new fruits are produced from the riven vines. (P.S. I read Girl On A Train last weekend - great recommendation!)

  13. I also loved All the Light and just recently finished reading When Paris Went Dark about the Nazi occupation of the city during WWII. It seems we just can't get over the fear, heroism, atrocity and courage of that war. We're still puzzling it out.
    Grantchester is just fantastic and I am sad that tonight is the season ender.