The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
2015 St. Martin's Press
Finished on January 21, 2016
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good!)
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.
I've only read one other book by Kristin Hannah (Distant Shores) and although that was many years ago, I remember it was the classic "fluff" or "chick-lit" beach read. When a friend gave me her ARC of The Nightingale, gushing about what a good book it was, I remained hesitant. I had recently read All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr) and wasn't too anxious to read another book about World War II, and to be honest, I prejudged the ability of Hannah to impress me with such a serious topic. Doerr's novel was so impressive that I was certain Hannah's book would only be a disappointment. So, it went on a shelf where it sat for over a year. The Nightingale become a best seller and very popular with book clubs and yet I still resisted. I don't remember who it was (probably a blogger, a friend or a customer), but somebody finally convinced me to give the book a try.
I am so glad I took a chance on this book! It may have started off with the feeling of a comfort read, but as the pages flew and I became more engrossed, the less it felt like "women's fiction" and more like a serious novel, in the same vein as The Book Thief and All the Light We Cannot See. I became captivated with the story, eager to get back to it at the end of the day, and found myself with tears in my eyes as I turned the final page. I wasn't ready to say goodbye to the characters, so I immediately added the audiobook to my wish list and hope to get to it in the coming months. This is one that is definitely worthy of a second read.
If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are. Today's young people want to know everything about everyone. They think talking about a problem will solve it. I come from a quieter generation. We understand the value of forgetting, the lure of reinvention.
I wish I had thought to jot down some notes about my impressions of this book as soon as I finished. I'm afraid this review doesn't do the book justice. It really is a very, very good novel and one that touched me deeply. Highly recommend!