Title: The Nightingale
Author: Kristin Hannah
Genre: Adult fiction, historical
My rating: ★★★★
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.
The Nightingale was such a powerful story about survival, love, and hope. I haven’t read very much historical fiction set during WWII, but this story really helped open my eyes at all the horror that took place in German occupied France in 1939-40’s.
This book follows two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, who are very much polar opposites. Vianne has a daughter and lives in a small French village with her husband who is drafted to the war. Isabelle is rebellious and sharp-tongued, and she is sent away to go live with Vianne after she’s kicked out of way too many finishing schools.
But this book also flash-forwards to the present, 1995. We don’t know which sister is narrating this part and I was really loving this mysterious element as I tried to connect the dots and follow all the bread crumbs Kristin Hannah left for us.
I can never claim to know what the war truly felt like, or what it felt like to live in the aftermath of that horror, so I don’t feel comfortable stating my opinion on what I liked or disliked about Kristin Hannah’s depiction of the occupation. All I know is that I can’t even imagine the terror everyone felt and the sacrifices they had to make to survive. It is truly heartbreaking and gut wrenching.
But I really think I would’ve rated this book higher if some of the things Isabelle did didn’t piss me off. Usually I love badass, rebellious characters, but her carelessness and lack of critical thinking put her family in jeopardy — I wanted to scream. And even though he was a Nazi, I really wanted Beck’s character to be more fleshed out. I am not saying I sympathized with him by any means, but he was complex, and in a really fucked up way, he was Vianne’s key to survival. And I just hated how things happened the way they did with his character. My conflicted feelings toward him was what kept me turning the page, but once I reached a certain point, I became less invested.
So this was probably more of a 3.5 star rating for me, but I’ll round it up to 4 because it really was such a brutal, moving, and powerful book with such important themes and horrific events that we need to remember. And I’d never read a book from the perspective of someone living in an occupied country who did NOT get taken to a labor camp, so this was something different for me. But please be warned there are several triggering topics regarding slavery, rape, abuse, and war.
Buddy read with Melanie!