Catch up on shows with The Coast On Demand
Friday, May 25, 2012 1:35 PM
War may be hell, but in her new historical romance, Jasmine Nights, Julia Gregson does a good job of singling out one of its redeeming features: the increased likelihood of finding love with a man in uniform. The key man here is Dominic Benson, a young British fighter pilot being treated at East Grinstead’s Queen Victoria Hospital, where victim’s of ‘airman’s burns’ are deposited. Thanks to luck and the ministrations of a talented surgeon he emerges undisfigured, but minus his heart, lost to a lovely singer named Saba Tarcan when she visits to entertain the recuperating troops.
Saba’s musical ambitions are a source of discord in her family; her boorish father, once proud of her talent, now has come to regard professional singing as akin to prostitution, and threatens to disown her if she pursues her career. She takes no notice, but things don’t improve on the home front after her departure, and the sporadic, complaint-filled letters of her mother, a cowed and colourless woman with whom it is impossible to sympathize, are weak and distracting elements of the novel.
In London and tilting her cap at musical theatre, Saba finds her talent spotted promptly, and she is dispatched with a small band of compatriots to North Africa at the apex of the Allied resistance on the continent. The members of the traveling band are employed by ENSA, the Entertainments National Service Association, which was set up in 1939 to provide entertainment for British armed forces personnel. (In real life, ENSA performers included Gracie Fields, Paul Scofield and Laurence Olivier.)
The rolling caravan wanders from the Egyptian capital to Alexandria and many smaller and less hospitable points in between, the ENSA performers living and bickering in close quarters. Though spared frontline exposure, the dangers of battle are ever-present, and emergency evacuations are not uncommon. It’s a world of contradiction and extreme juxtaposition: the oranges and bananas that are rare treats in ration-rife England are in plentiful supply in Egypt, with its balmy climate and general air of permissiveness.
It is in Africa that Saba and Dom have a chance reunion, and Gregson defies the usual expectations of romance readers by staging only a handful of brief and abortive encounters between the two in the first half of Jasmine Nights. Each, after all, has another love demanding attention. Saba is enamoured of performing and the excitement of travel and freedom from her stifling family home, while Dom is careful not to verbalize how intoxicating he finds the lure of the air, with all its risk.
Saba is simultaneously seduced by her incipient career in pseudo-espionage, which begins with prompting by a senior member of the British military, who asks her to give a personal performance for a wealthy and well-connected Turk. With the Allied%
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