on February 3, 2004
I have attempted some other Susan Isaacs books and was disappointed, so it may be surprising that this book has a constant place on my "frequently read" bookshelf. Rather than discuss the plotline (I think the editorial review does that succinctly enough), let me try to convey to you the experience of actually reading the book.
The singlemost outstanding feature of this book is the screaming reality with which Isaacs develops characters. One reviewer was apparently upset that the narrator felt too little sympathy for the Germans (and described her boss, rather than "showing" what he was like). These details actually contribute greatly to my love of the book, as the editorializing narrator (Linda Voss) demonstrates her own personality through the way in which she communicates. She only describes her boss as "perfect"? Exactly--she's blinded by her feelings. Not sympathetic towards the Germans? Of course not--the character is an extremely cynical, stubborn woman who is working for the U.S. Government during the war. Perhaps, then, the best feature of the narration is the consistency which Isaacs employs; assuming that you are able to recognize literary tricks, you should have no problem differentiating between Linda's views and the facts of her world.
As for the plot itself, despite frequent rereading, this book keeps me spellbound from the first chapter until the last. At times, the plot twists are truly surprising; other times, the story is unsurprising but told saucily enough to hold my interest all the way through. As aforementioned, the narrator is such a compelling character that one gets the feeling of just listening to her chatter her way through the pages. I enjoy this book in one straight read; it helps maintain the feeling of Linda Voss, storyteller (as opposed to Susan Isaacs, author).
In short, then:
1. Linda Voss is THE most compelling narrator/character I have ever read.
2. The writing is consistent and precise.
3. The plot is interesting enough to be worthy of the gorgeous characterization.
on May 25, 2000
Okay, I have to be very careful here. You see, I have to be if I want to do this work justice. I cannot emphasize enough what a great novel this is and what a truly, wonderful writer Susan Isaacs is. Her eye for detail (written so funnily) and her ear for dialogue (just flows off the page) cannot be surpassed. You know what, instead of lauding my praises I'll write a quick excerpt from the novel to persuade you. It's from very first lines of the novel. If it doesn't persuade you, I don't know what will. Here it is: START
In 1941, when I was thirty-one and an old maid, while the whole world waited for war, I fell in love with John Berringer.
An office crush. Big deal. Since the invention of the steno pad, a day hasn't gone by without some secretary glancing up from her Pitman squiggles and suddenly realizing that the man who was mumbling "...and therefore, pursuant to the above..." was the one man in her life who could ever bring her joy.
So there I was, a cliche with a number 2 yellow pencil: a working firl from Queens who'd lost her heart to the pride of the Ivy League. END
Isaac's hooks you in and never lets you go. The main character, Linda Voss, is a wonder. She is a heroine unlike any other. She is and always will be wonderfully funny, sometimes mocking, but never boring. All of Isaac's characters are soo human; they are never perfect; they all have flaws. You may not like some of them, but all of them are understandable.
I shall forever be grateful to Isaacs for writing this masterpiece. So, please, please, I cannot stress this enough, please go borrow, buy, or steal this book and try it out. You'll fall in love with it. I know I did.
on April 6, 1999
The parallels, the characterization, the foreshadowing, the dynamic evolving characters... this is an excellent example of modern American fiction at its highest level. Our protagonist, Linda Voss, is a real woman recognizably full of her own illusions and strengths, gets involved in the catalyst of WWII, thereby learning what really matters to her as a woman, an American, and a Jew. Miss Isaacs is able, with her impressive understanding of WWIIand humanity in general (which asks the questions Who am I? What do I really want? Why is this happening to me? How can I survive? How can I emerge victorious?), to paint the human condition against a background of war that is didactic while at the same time entirely recognizable. A critical yet loyal Isaacs fan, I believe this book is my supreme favorite of all her work, and I also believe it's my favorite book, period.
on June 12, 2004
"Shining Through" is one of those wonderful books that owes it appeal to its fairy tale-like plot. The editorial reviews call it a modern Cinderella story, but I've always read it as an "ugly duckling to swan" tale. Unappreciated by her Ivy League cad of a husband (who only married her because he had to), a part-Jewish working class girl goes undercover in Nazi German. The heroine's true worth shines through, and, after the requisite suspense and plot twists, she gets her Prince Charming. This book may not be great literature, but it's a satisfying read. Like an earlier reviewer said, it's one of those books to keep around and reread from time to time. For any reader who has felt downtrodden and/or underappreciated (and who hasn't) "Shining Through" is indeed literary comfort food.
on November 27, 2001
Were I to be stranded on a desert island with only three books to sustain me . . . Susan Isaacs' "Shining Through" would definitely be one of those books!
Come to think of it, were I to be stranded with only one person for companionship, Linda Voss -- Isaacs' heroine -- would be my top choice. (A pity she exists only in the pages of "Shining Through" . . . or does she?)
A simple (oh, yeah?) Bronx secretary in a 1940 topnotch Manhattan lawfirm presumes to aspire "far beyond her station," as the old saying goes. More than that, she dares to THINK. And, when war comes, her sense of moral outrage (as well as the pull of her family roots) impels her to act. That's the bare-bones synopsis of "Shining Through," which is at once a brilliantly-executed depiction of time and place as well as a totally satisfying celebration of the heroism which, hopefully, lies dormant and subject to call in most people even today.
Wise-cracking and irreverent, wryly self-deprecating in her rejection of self-pity, Linda Voss is alternately vulnerable and nail-hard tough, when needs be, as the world's events unfold and lead her to her destiny.
And that ultimate destiny -- at least to the point with which the book concludes -- is one which should make the reader shout, "Hooray!" (I always do, anyway, at the end of each rereading.)
Author Susan Isaacs is regarded, for the most part, as a "woman's writer." This is a pity, and -- especially in the case of "Shining Through" -- a loss to male readers.
Guys, a lot of us are missing something here!
Linda Voss, our heroine in "Shining Through," is a smart, savvy, sassy gal from a shabby neighborhood in Queens, NY, & a proud graduate of Grover Cleveland High School. She is also partially Jewish. Having been raised with her paternal grandmother, a Jewess who longed to return to her beloved Berlin, Linda speaks German like a Berliner. This is crucial to the plot.
Though quite lovely, Linda is still single at 31, because she had yet to meet a man she loved enough to marry. She works, by day, as the bilingual secretary for gorgeous, super-smart Yale lawyer, John Berringer. By night, Linda fantasizes of romance with her boss, the Wall Street Lawyer. But can a high school grad, from a lower-middle class Queens neighborhood, find happiness with a handsome Ivy League professional, and live the life of a blue-blooded, to-the-manor-born lady? Linda's other primary extracurricular activity, besides John watching, is her voracious interest in Germany's war with Europe and the Jewish People. Susan Isaacs juxtaposes, with much wit, Linda's banal commentaries about her everyday existence with the earthshaking events that are unfolding worldwide. "On the last normal day, Hitler sent endless cables to his generals, Mussolini had several recorded temper tantrums, Neville Chamberlain took a long silent walk, and the secretaries of Blair, VanderGraff and Wadley ate lunch." And, while arguing with a friend, "What's the percentage in turning to mush under a little pressure? Like that British boob who gave away Czechoslovakia."
Ms. Isaacs chronicles Linda's rapid ascent from lonely secretary with a crush to Cinderella-wife, married to the man of her dreams, with humor and style. Or is she...married to the man of her dreams? Life moves on and so does the War. Linda and her new husband, Mr. Berringer, move to Washington, as he becomes involved in the workings of the infant OSS. The now, Mrs. Berringer, also goes to work for the OSS, as her language skills are needed even more than her secretarial skills. The fact that she easily passes FBI scrutiny doesn't hurt her employment opportunities either. She becomes the secretary of the head of the Organization, an older man she respects and admires. And for the first time in her life, she is truly intellectually stimulated, as she finally gets an opportunity to work against the Nazis - even though it's from behind a desk in Washington. As the international tension increases, so does the tension in Linda's marriage. Ms. Isaacs develops Linda's character well, allowing the reader to see her emotional growth, along with a growing cynicism and a determination to wean herself away from a destructive relationship. When she makes her decision to enter Germany and spy for Washington, she is a far different woman than the one we met originally, although the potential was noticeably there. And her observations about espionage inside Germany are insightful and fascinating.
This is the story of a woman's great courage under dire circumstances. It is also a surprisingly beautiful love
story. A wonderful read! I highly recommend it.
on November 23, 2015
I have read several books by Susan Isaacs and was very disappointed with this one. I enjoyed her other books and the fact that she writes about women who are strong willed with a sense of humor was a plus. This book is about a woman who does have these attributes but the story does not go anywhere. I found it boring and repetitious and after reading approximately 1/4 of it decided to stop torturing myself and ceased reading it. If i did not know better i would never guess that the author was Susan Isaacs. It just did not do anything for me that would encourage me to read further. Maybe after reading as much as I did I decided to continue to read it to the end, the true Susan Isaacs would appear. I never read a book by this author I did not like. I guess there is a first time for everything.
on June 9, 1997
They made a movie of this and bungled it royally. Isaacs did not write the screenplay which is patently obvious: the heroine botches up everything and the hero saves her by carrying her comatose body across the Swiss border. Please. In the book, the story of a Jewish American girl of German heritage who volunteers to infiltrate the home of a Nazi official may be implausible but it's a terrific page turner of a story. She is feisty, irreverent and fearless and definitely not a Melanie Griffith type. There is a thumping good love story in here too (read: not sappy). Most of Isaacs' books seem to be more like who-dunnits, but this one is rich in detail (she does an excellent job of evoking the period) and marvelously suspenseful. I'd love to see her try this genre again
on May 19, 2015
A thoroughly enjoyable and suspenseful spy thriller/romance. Normally anything called a 'romance novel' sends me scurrying away but Susan Isaacs has created a narrative that is intriguing and suspenseful with characters that have depth. Linda is bi-lingual, English and German and works for a NY law firm in the early 1940s with links to OSS work involving correspondence with Germany. The love interest that captivates Linda alerts the reader to no good outcome, but then predictability wavers. Linda is not a gullible heroine nor is she naive. She is a clearheaded, reliable narrator and I can identify with her. The spy work that she ends up doing is intense and as a reader I am carried along with her in trying to suss out her next move. I am put off by a narrator who, as a plot device is oblivious to clues or acts in ways contrary to the developed personality and clearly contrived to further the suspense. The end is something I suspected and was gratified with, but in no way would have predicted. This book was a page turner to the very end and I am a huge Susan Isaacs fan now.
on May 22, 2012
Oh, what a book, and oh, what a heroine. There's nobody quite like Linda; a Jewish-German secretary from Queens with a foul mouth, a wry sense of humor, and enough steel in her spine to build a bridge cable. Linda works for movie-star-handsome Wall Street lawyer John, fantasizing about her boss by day and taking care of her alcoholic mother by night, as Hitler rises in Europe. A passionate love affair and an unplanned pregnancy lead to a marriage proposal from John, but this fairy tale doesn't end at the altar. Marrying John isn't quite the happy ending Linda imagined, and when John's intimidating boss Edward needs a German speaker to handle his secret war correspondence, Linda jumps at the job. From the fringes of the spy business, Linda will land right in the thick of it, sent to Berlin to spy on a Nazi official as D-Day approaches. Linda's unforgettable voice makes the book fly, but the tense and terrifying third act is where it really soars; painting a mesmerizing picture of Hitler's Berlin, the intelligence business (the real intel business, not the James Bond stuff), and of an ordinary woman gutting her way through impossible dangers on common sense and sheer toughness alone. "I wanted to fight as much as any boy who enlisted the day after Pearl Harbor," she tells us, and boy, does she.