Book Review: The Nightingale

In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.

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.

515p3OrN1KL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Where can I start with this review?

First, let me say that this is the kind of book you do not read lightly. It is not a quick read. It is not… overly joyful. It is heartrending in some places. It is hard to continue at others. And yet… it is a lesson to your soul, a story that needs to be told, needs to be heard, needs to be lived.

I did not grow up during a war – not this kind of war. I was not forced to live with soldiers, and though we had food stamps when I was a child, it was nothing like having ration cards, and eating marrow soup. I have not lived the lives of those within in this book. Reading this story gave me a glimpse into the lives of those in France during the war. I still will not say I can come close to knowing what they went through, but as a person holding a history degree, I feel that narratives like these can give us a much better understanding of the reality of our history.

This is the first full book I have ever listened to (since school days and I hated it then because I could read SO much faster), and at first I had a very hard time doing it. However, after I had my wisdom tooth cut out, and I could not do much else, listening to this became easier and I began to enjoy it. I also started listening to it in the car, and before bed. The person reading the audio book also did a wonderful job with voices, and emotions and changes in pace. I LOVED it. I also think it made it more heart rending on occasion.

The story was difficult to get into first. I was not liking it, but it had such good reviews, and was on a period of history I like to study, so I kept with it. Then the war began, and things picked up. Though it is a long story, the author does well to skip over the correct points, and move things along. From the beginning to the end, we see the tragedy of the war as things progressed. We see death. Senseless horrible death. I cried several times. We also see goodbyes, and separations. We see perseverance, and not that not all Germans are evil. There is cruelty, and heartache. But there is friendships, and love, and saving.

This is largely the story of women who were left behind. Women who had to keep their families alive, or who wanted to resist the Germans. When at first you see a sappy love story coming, it twists and turns and becomes so much more. It is not about the battles fought by men, though men do help. It is about two strong women, though they may have not though so, who fight the only ways they knew how. Their stories intertwine, as they are sisters, and they each do more than I could imagine. And while the ending angered me because of what happens, it is still well written and because of how it ends… perhaps more truthful to the tale.

I do not want to take this book apart piece by piece. It was a beautiful, heart wrenching story. It is not for everyone. There are a few children who die within the story. There are many painful moments. And I know, it is no where near what many people experienced.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Nightingale

  1. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books Every History Nerd Should Read – A Woman of Many Titles

    1. It is worth the read as long as you are prepared for the heartache. I would say I just get more emotionally attached than most, but I think it would bring heartache to even the strongest of readers. I also do not have anyone who ever shared personal stories with me about this time, so that may make it stronger for some.

      We did have a holocaust survivor come speak to us at my high school.

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