My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What this book is about:
Vianne and Antoinne live with their daughter Sophie just outside of Paris in a suburban town called Carriveau. Isabelle is Vianne’s younger sister. She is only 18 and already a rebel and a force of nature. When war is at France’s doorstep, Antoinne is called to the front and leaves Vianne and his daughter behind with Isabelle whose father didn’t want her to stay with him anymore. Now these two sisters have to find a way to survive in Nazi occupied France when things keep going from bad to worse. When your life is in danger every minute of every day what are you willing to do to survive?
Steps I followed after finishing The Nightingale at 3:00 in the morning:
1. Take a few deep breaths and try to recover from the heavy blow
2. Decide that I want to read more historical fiction from now on
3. Decide I want to find out more about this book or the author (it can’t really be over so soon!)
4. Go on Goodreads and add on my want-to-read list more books by Kristin Hannah
Why didn’t I give this book 5 stars? Well, the only reason I decided to go with a 4 star review was because I didn’t feel like this was a life changing experience of immeasurable proportions. I know, I’m too harsh with judging books but a 5 star rating should be well-deserved, in my opinion.
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.
First of all, I’m not a big fan of WWII stories – or so I thought, before reading this book. Not only that, but the name of the book “The Nightingale” threw me off. I thought I was about to read a historical fiction story about Florence Nightingale since I went into the story blind. I refused to read the synopsis which turned out to be a good idea. The writing style of Kristin Hannah (lets start with something easy for me to comment on) was beautiful. Powerful, strong.. There was no point in this novel of 430 pages where I felt bored or that it was too long. I liked each and every paragraph and I do appreciate big books. I could definitely see that the author put a massive amount of work in this story: crafting amazing characters, creating descriptions of France but also researching war stories and presenting them to us.
Men tell stories. Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals 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.
Women played an integral part in WWII and men in the positions of power (from the Nazi side) underestimated their strength and influence on the final outcome of the war. These two women, Vianne and Isabelle, so different but yet equally strong. Each one fighting their own battles: Vianne has a daughter to think about and a Nazi Captain biletting in her house; Isabelle is actively helping the resistance, passing fliers and risking her life daily for the ideals she believes in. In the first chapter we are in 1995 following a woman that we don’t know who it is. The woman’s identity is revealed at the end of the book which was a wonderful idea on behalf of the author. (Oh man, it’s really hard to gather my thoughts on this one!)
But love has to be stronger than hate, or there is no future for us.
Even though this is a book about love, romance is not the main theme of the story. Sure there is romance but love as in, partner love, sisterly love and love of a parent towards their child is very prominent throughout the novel. Moreover, this is not a story about the horrors that men endure during the war, the battlefield and war tactics. This is kind of the story in the background. What happens when men have to leave their wives. The women don’t just disappear, they have to learn to survive and they have to understand their own values and ideals. What will drive a woman over the edge and make her do unspeakable things for the ones that she loves. While men are giving their body and souls to fight the war women do the same. This book really punched me in the gut. It made me think of the human nature and the things we take for granted like safety, shelter, food and basic trust toward other human beings. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I had a gun pointed at me just once in my life. These people were walking around every day fully knowing that there are multiple guns fixed on them at all times. Life is nothing and at the same time it’s everything. Impossible choices and unimaginable sacrifices.
Love. It was the beginning and end of everything, the foundation and the ceiling and the air in between.
Finally, I want to talk about the horrible side of WWII. The executions, the Nazis, the states that people were kept in. Kristin Hannah created very strong characters, as I already said, and villains that you actually despise. Moreover, the author does include quite a few gory descriptions that I personally always appreciate in a book. Horrific explanations of what the human body goes through make a book more real. These things happened and I want to read about them and get a glimpse of what being in Nazi occupied France meant. The Nightingale didn’t lack of suspense and agony for the characters for which I cared almost from the beginning (such well-developed characters!). While reading this book I was actually exclaiming out loud or closing it and then immediately opening it again because I needed to see what would happen. And the ending was so powerful and heartbreaking and it left me with an aching gut. It’s weird how you can fit people’s lives and care for fictional characters in 400 pages.
I am a mother and mothers don’t have the luxury of falling apart in front of their children, even when they are afraid, even when their children are adults.
I will stop this review here because otherwise I will keep going on and on. I would recommend this book to anyone, unless you don’t like historical fiction or WWII stories at all! Especially, if you enjoyed The Book Thief by Markus Zusak I think you are going to love The Nightingale, even though it’s an adult historical fiction novel. I can definitely understand why it won the Goodreads choice award last year, this book was worth it.
Have you read this book and did you enjoy also enjoy it like I did? Let me know what your thoughts are on Vianne’s and Isabelle’s story 🙂
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The Nightingale (BookDepository)