I read a lot of books, but don’t always take the time to tell people about them. I’m hoping to change that this year by getting back in the habit of posting reviews of stories I really enjoy. Who knows? You might find a new author to check out. 🙂
I’m beginning my 2016 reviews with The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.
About the book:
France 1939 — In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband 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 18-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 Gaetan, 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.
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.
I think many of us who enjoy historical fiction have read our share of World War II novels, but The Nightingale took me to a place I’ve not been: deep into the war through the eyes of women trying to survive at home under Nazi occupation.
Vianne and Isabelle are sisters, but have very little in common beyond their parents. Life was good until their mother died and their father didn’t know how to handle raising two girls in the midst of his grief. He took them to a convent school, which Vianne soon escaped through marriage. Isabelle was too young to have a choice and spent years being moved from one boarding school or convent to another, rarely seeing Vianne or their father.
Then war comes to their front door. Living with rations and restrictions is one thing, but learning to live with Nazis overtaking every corner of your town is another. Vianne and Isabelle shift from being ordinary French women to patriots who will do whatever they must to survive and help their families – even when it means doing thing they never dared imagine.
Vianne and Isabelle are so richly drawn that once I got into the book I felt like I was living the events with them instead of just reading. It was a roller coaster of emotions — joy, horror, love, anxiety, terror, tenderness, pain, surprise, reconciliation. But every emotion was realistic, every storyline based on situations people really faced during that time. Fortunately, Hannah manages to balance the horrors of war with little glimpses of hope and just enough intrigue so you don’t put the book down because you’re too depressed to keep reading.
But that doesn’t make The Nightingale any less powerful. In fact, I think the contrasts are part of what make it such a strong book. No matter what your past might be or what kind of person you believe you are, you never truly know how you’ll handle the worst situations imaginable until you’re in them. You can only hope that you’ll still be able to find some positive things to hold onto along the way.
This was the first book I’ve read by Kristin Hannah, and it was thanks to my sister’s recommendation. I’m glad she let me borrow her copy, because it’s one of the most eye-opening novels I’ve ever read. The Nightingale will stay with me for a long time.
For more about Kristin Hannah and her books, here’s where you can find her online:
Your turn: Does this sound like a book you might like to read? Or, have you ever read any of Kristin Hannah’s other books? What World War II novel is your favorite?