The Nightingale is an absolutely stunning novel that took my breath away…
Author: Kristin Hannah
Genre: Historical Fiction > WWII Fiction
Version: Hardback (440 Pages)
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (February 3, 2015)
Despite their differences, sisters Vianne and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Vianne is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Vianne finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her.
As the war progresses, the sisters’ relationship and strength is tested. With life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Vianne and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.
I had been meaning to read The Nightingale ever since it came out back in February 2015. I have no idea why I had put it off for so long, I knew I was going to love it. Historical fiction is my favorite genre, especially HF that centers around WWII. The Nightingale took ahold of me from the very first sentence and didn’t let go until the very end. What a wild ride of emotion.
“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.”
I had never read a WWII fiction set in France before. Even though I knew that France was occupied during WWII, I never really stopped and considered what the people of France went though while their country was occupied. The horrors that the people of France had to endure while under occupation by Nazi Germany is unfathomable. The Nightingale centers around the roles that those left behind assumed when the men went off to war; in particular, the roles that the women of France assumed after watching their husbands drafted by their county to help fight, then forced into service by the Nazis after occupation. Most of the WWII fiction I have read in the past has focused on the men on the front lines, or the victims within concentration camps, so it was refreshing to get a new perspective on such a horrific part of our history.
“Men tell stories. Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There was no parade for us when the war was over, no metals 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.”
The Nightingale not only has one strong lead female character, but TWO strong lead female characters! Sisters Vianne and Isabel were both strong women, but strong in different ways. I loved the two opposing strategies the two sisters take to get through the war. Vianne taking the more passive role, while Isabel took a more aggressive role. I admired and respected both Isabel’s fearlessness and Vianne’s determination to survive. Since I am a mother myself, I sympathized with Vianne’s struggles and commend her for doing anything and everything to keep her children safe. Had I been in her shoes, I think I would have made the same decisions that were put before her. I also marveled at Isabel’s courage and boldness to do everything in her power to help aid in the resistance and also to put her life on the line to help others. These two woman may seem different at first, but we learn that they are more alike than either of them realize.
Another aspect about this book that I thoroughly enjoyed were the complex characters and relationships throughout the novel: the relationship between Vianne and Isabel, the relationships between each of the sisters and their father, the growth that Isabel undergoes throughout the novel, and the complex characterization of Beck, just to name a few. Vianne and Isabel definitely had their ups and downs, but they were fiercely loyal to each other and would set aside their different views because they loved one another. Much like the relationship between the sisters, they also shared a very complicated relationship with their father. In the beginning you may think it is very cut and dry. You may assume that their father is just a dead beat father who does not care about his daughters, however you may feel differently after you know all the details to his story. I also appreciated the tremendous growth that Isabel exhibits in the book. In the beginning, Isabel is young, reckless, and self-absorbed, but by the end of the book Isabel blossoms into a strong and heroic woman. This leaves us with my favorite complex character in The Nightingale, Beck, the Nazi Captain who was billeted in Vianne’s home. Hannah is absolutely brilliant with her characterization of Beck. She was really able to take a character that we should have hated on principle, and made us sympathetic to him. I also liked Beck and Vianne’s complicated relationship. It all felt very believable.
As far as the writing is concerned, Kristin Hannah, where the heck have you been all my life?! How have I not read one of her books before? This woman is on point with her characterizations AND her plot. Not only is Hannah a great storyteller, but her writing compliments the story so well. Hanna’s writing is both vivid and elegant. I will definitely be looking into her other works.
This was a wonderful book club selection. My book club spent hours discussing so many different aspects of this book: the different tactics the two sisters took to get through the war, the different types of complex relationships within the book, hard decisions that had to be made, the daily horrors that those left behind had to endure in order to survive, etc. etc. Not only did The Nightingale invoke a wonderful discussion, but it was the first book in which EVERY member absolutely loved the book.
Like most WWII historical fiction, The Nightingale is full of tragedy, so if you are looking for a lighthearted read, this is probably not going to work out well for you. However, if you are looking for a book that will move you to tears and that you will not be able to put down, The Nightingale is for you.
“But love has to be stronger than hate, or there is no future for us.”
“Wounds heal. Love lasts. We remain.”
“Love. It was the beginning and end of everything, the foundation and the ceiling and the air in between.”
About the Author:
Kristin Hannah is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than 20 novels including Winter Garden, Night Road, and the blockbuster Firefly Lane which sold over 1.2 million copies.
Her novels Home Front and Night Road were among the first novels to appear in the #1 spot on 5 New York Times bestseller lists simultaneously. Home Front has been optioned for film by 1492 Films (produced the Oscar-nominated The Help) with Chris Columbus attached to write, produce, and direct.
Kristin’s highly anticipated new release, The Nightingale, will be published on February 3, 2015 (St. Martin’s Press). The novel –an epic love story and family drama set in France at the dawn of World War II–is a profound and compelling portrait of two estranged sisters, living in a city under siege and a country at war, where sometimes surviving means doing the unthinkable.