The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Published by: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: February 3, 2015
Genre: Historical fiction, WWII
Extent: 440 pages
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 a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.
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 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. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.
With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures 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.
“Men tell stories. Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions in history books. We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over.”
I’ve been wanting to find another historical fiction set in WWII, and Kristin Hannah delivers just that book. I was hesitant with Nightingale because I was worried of how she might portray this war. You see, this book doesn’t centre around men and soldiers; it depicts the heartbreaking and secretive war women and children endure while men are at the front. Kristin’s writing lets you smell the gunpowder, hear the planes overhead, and listen to the cries of Parisians. What sets this book apart from other works is how Kristin shows you the aftermath of the war. Some books simply conclude at the end of the war. But she emphasizes the sense of loss, the shock, and the heartache.
I have not felt so empowered and so torn than I have when I read this book. There were times when I forced myself to put it down. Not many books have made me do so. At the beginning, I didn’t see Isabelle as an inspirational character, but later on, she grew on me. I asked myself what I would do in her situation, what I would undergo so I can live, how I would survive, and what I would give up in order to be the person I need to be. Her history and storyline completely gutted me.
Now, at first, I resented Vianne. I wanted her to hold on to Isabelle, rebuild her bond she once had with her younger sister, and show her sister what a family is meant to be. But then she gives up her house, her body, her sanity, and her safety for others, and I can’t help but be proud of who she becomes. Both Vianne and Isabelle are polar opposites, but their character development is astonishing. I was also disheartened when I witnessed the war moulding Sophie, Vianne’s daughter, into a hardened young adult. I wanted to keep telling Sophie to hold on to her childhood memories. What I love in Nightingale is how the Nazi Germans instill the fear into every Parisian, how that fear breeds division and segregation, and how the war shapes a generation of silence. Kristin illustrates this gradual fear, not an instantaneous one.
Kristin has beautifully crafted a powerful story that will make you question what you would do in a time where the future has no certainty. Nightingale turns out to be more than just a war story; it shows the forgotten and often hidden strength women have inside themselves.