Historical fiction is a genre that I don't tend to read a lot of, but that I love. It's a genre that's full of rich details, despair, poverty, and ultimately hope. Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale was no exception. If pressed to give an answer on my favourite authors, I always answer with Jodi Picoult and Kristin Hannah. They never disappoint.
In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.
In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France...but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.
Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can...completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real--and deadly--consequences.
With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah takes her talented pen to the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France--a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.
My thoughts: I read this book fairly slowly (for me) because I wanted to absorb everything about it. I needed time between readings to fully comprehend the sadness and the beauty in both the words and the story.
I fell in love with these characters. Strong, resilient Isabelle and her equally strong sister Vianne. Both women had crosses to bear and their own struggles, but each made the war their own and did what they had to in order to survive. Vianne may seem like the sister who is less strong, but as the story goes on, you see the sacrifices she has to make in order to keep her family safe. It could not have been easy to be a woman (or person) in occupied France during World War II. I feel like any comment I make will not even be close to describing the horrors and sadness of that time, but Kristin Hannah does a good job at it.
This is definitely a tough book to read. It's heartbreaking, dark, and at times can be very difficult to read, but it's important. My history lessons as a child were about the soldiers. The men who fought the war and the men who started the war. I don't remember learning much about the women during the war, but they were fighting, too, and ooh, fight they did. This book, while dark, celebrates women in the war. You won't get battle scenes here, but you will get strong women battling to fight their own demons - inner and outer.
I'm having trouble properly reviewing this book because I don't want to give too much away. I want people to pick this up because it's an important book to read. It will satisfy historical fiction lovers, as well as those just looking for a good read. Have some Kleenex handy, and perhaps some funny animal photos, because you will cry. You'll reach the end with tears running down your face, but also with hope and love for the real people who suffered through the war. After all, Vianne and Isabelle are just characters, but real people are the ones who fought, died, and survived during this awful time. Read it for them.
*photos by me.