Title: The Nightingale
Author: Kristin Hannah
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Goodreads Synopsis: FRANCE, 1939
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.
This book took me a while to get into, but once I did I just fell in love with Vianne and Isabelle Mauriac. Their story was so beautiful, and it reduced me to tears. (Robot status report: does not compute.) As the goodreads synopsis says, Vianne and Isabelle are two somewhat estranged sisters living in France. All but abandoned by their father after the death of their mother, Vianne and Isabelle have each grown up very differently. Older sister Vianne is timid, introverted, and dependent on her husband. (If she was an animal, she would be a mouse for sure.) Isabelle, having been bounced between boarding schools since she was a child, is rebellious and immature. She doesn’t have a problem with saying what she thinks and standing up for what she believes in. It is no surprise that when the war breaks out, each sister deals with it in a different way.
Isabelle is outraged by the German occupation and immediately joins the resistance. She rebels against them in any way that she can, even placing Vianne and her daughter in danger in the process. She receives an opportunity to go to Paris and seizes it, never letting Vianne know the grave reality of what she is doing. For her last name, Mauriac, she becomes known as “The Nightingale,” and graduates from passing out flyers to escorting downed air pilots back across the border into allied territory. Basically, she is known by the Germans as Undesirable No. 1 (for my HP fans out there). Isabelle grows up a great deal throughout the story – from an 18 year-old girl who falls in love-at-first-sight with an escaped jailbird, to a young woman who has dedicated her life to the service of others.
While Isabelle’s character teetered on the edge of annoying in the beginning of the novel, I couldn’t have been more satisfied with where she ends up. I found her to be so brave, throwing caution to the wind and never letting up in her resolve. She never once thought about what could happen if she was caught, only the task at hand. I am a cautious person by nature, so the fact that she would do half of the things she did was inspiring to me.
Vianne, whose husband has gone off to defend the Maginot line, slides into survival mode and takes every day as it comes. That is, until they start taking away the Jews. She begins saving Jewish children before they can be taken away, and hiding them in the orphanage at her local church. One of them, her best friend’s son, Vianne adopts as her own. All this, under the nose of the German Officer living in her home.
Vianne also went through a huge character transformation throughout the book. While she may have been timid and unsure of herself in the beginning, the war turns her into a warrior of sorts. While Isabelle is out fighting on the front lines, Vianne is fighting on the home front. She fights for the survival of her family, her friends, and her country. Literally and figuratively. Even though she is not always actively and outwardly resisting the Germans, she does it in small ways that make a difference in every life she touches. While Isabelle is the thunder and lightning, Vianne is the rain. She is comforting and subtle, playing a part in the storm.
At the beginning of the book, we find out that only one sister has survived the war. Hannah does a great job of tipping the scales to either side, making it appear as if one sister is doomed and then tipping it towards the other. I have to say, while the book definitely led up to it, I didn’t expect the outcome it gave me. I kept hoping for a different end. However, I think she tied up all the loose ends nicely. Some, more abruptly than others.
All in all, it was a fabulous read. I would recommend this to anyone that has a sister, it definitely gave me a new appreciation for mine.