The Secret of the Nightingale Palace

Written by Dana Sachs
Review by Anne Clinard Barnhill

In her second novel, Dana Sachs delivers a satisfying story about an estranged grandmother and granddaughter who are able to take a journey together to discover things they hadn’t known about each other. In the process, the rift in their relationship is mended and healing begins.

Anna, a 35-year-old widow, is surprised to receive a phone call from her 85-year-old grandmother, the same woman who disapproved of Anna’s deceased husband, the same woman to whom she has not spoken in five years. When her grandmother, Goldie Rosenthal, begs Anna to drive her across the country to return original Japanese artwork to its rightful owner, Anna reluctantly agrees. As the two women progress from hotel to hotel across the often desolate landscape, Goldie’s past life begins to take shape in the form of flashbacks.

We see that in her youth, Goldie, poor and on her own, makes friends with Mayumi Nakamura, a fellow employee at Feld’s, a luxury department store. Soon, Mayumi’s brother, Henry, enters the picture, and Goldie falls for this debonair and sensitive man. However, a relationship between a Jewish woman and a Japanese man proves difficult on the eve of World War II. Goldie must move on with her life as Henry is taken to an internment camp.

Goldie’s lesson to her granddaughter becomes obvious: we must move past our losses to “make our own parties.” I won’t give away the twist at the end but will say every time I think of the way Goldie made her own party, I smile.