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 have read other Kristin Hannah books in the past and enjoyed them. They’re just fluffy chick-lit to me, which isn’t a bad thing at all. Sometimes we need fluff to get through the day or a book slump. It’s because of this that I didn’t pick up The Nightingale sooner. I was afraid it would sound too much like her previous books, with an okay plot and good writing. I was so surprised when I read The Nightingale. I don’t cry easily with books, but I was extremely close to tears with this book.
The Dual Storyline
The book opens in 1999 and focuses on an unnamed older woman. We don’t find out who she is until the end of the book, but it’s obvious that it’s one of the two main characters, Vianne or Isabelle. The mystery added to the whole story. I kept finding myself guessing at who the older woman was and often changed my opinion as the story progressed.
I’m not a historian, nor do I claim to be one. I’ve noticed with a lot of books featuring Nazis that said Nazis are often romanticized. Most people have at least one family member who has seen war, from siblings to grandparents or great-grandparents. We like to think we know our family well enough, and don’t think about the fact that being through a war is indescribable. Many people are at their very worst during war because they can be. While we do see a friendly Nazi in the form of Captain Beck, we also see the more common Nazi in the SS soldier that billets at Vianne’s house. He’s a disgusting person who uses the war as an excuse to do whatever he wants.
I’m sure there are so many more within the story, but this was what stood out to me the most.
Different Kinds of War
Vianne and Isabelle look at the war differently. Vianne, who is at least 10 years older than Isabelle, remembers the Great War and how drastically it changed her father. She knows the consequences of war, and is terrified of what it will mean for her and her family. Her husband will have to leave for an unknown amount of time, and there is a large chance he’ll come back completely different. Vianne knows that the only thing she can do to protect her daughter is comply with whatever the Nazis want her to do. She does, no matter how much pain it causes her.
Isabelle doesn’t understand people who refuse to oppose the Nazis. There is nothing worse to her than collaborators or women who sleep with “the enemy”. Her place is out in the war, actually doing something to help France fight back against the invaders. So she does. She continuously puts herself in danger just to say, “Fuck you,” to the German army. Both of these women do what they can to survive the war, but they also do what they can to help other people. There was a war on the frontlines, and there was a war at home.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS. DO NOT READ BEYOND THIS POINT IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO READ SPOILERS.
• Vianne can be very selfish and gives little to no thought about Isabelle and what she went through as a child. Isabelle is also extremely selfish in her own way.
• Pg. 175 – I wonder what their father has in the back room of his bookshop?
• Pg. 178 – How many German soldiers were this nice? Almost all the books featuring them also romanticize them. Obviously I want to believe all people are god, but this is a war and I’m not naive.
• I’m glad their father is part of the resistance — I think Isabelle is the older woman in the story.
• Vianne or Isabelle should have disposed of the airman’s body when Vianne found them in the cellar. Then none of this would have happened!
• I cannot believe Isabelle thought using Vianne’s barn was a good idea. I guess she was too desperate.
• Pg. 316 – I hate Gaetan. Just… For some reason I don’t trust him. Who leaves a girl with a note tacked to her shirt?!
• Pg. 370 – Well, I got both sides of the German soldiers, huh…?
• Pg. 378 – Noooooo not a camp! Now I’m not sure who the old woman is…
• Pg. 395 – So we’re gonna keep the Nazi-rape baby…
• Pg. 410 – Could the old woman be Sophie?