If this is your first time reading my reviews, then you may not know that historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. This genre can appeal to anyone, as it features history, romance, drama, suspense, and often times, can make readers shed a tear or two. Though The Nightingale is technically based on two fictional characters, the background, the time, and the events that took place were very real. The most common era on my bookshelves consists of World War II historical fiction, which made it an easy choice to choose this book. After doing some research on the book I noticed timelines in this novel were slightly different from when events actually occurred, but the context of the events is the same. Although two other books, Lilac Girls and All the Light We Cannot See, offer insight into France during WWII, this is the first novel I have read based solely in France during this war. As one will find out if they read The Nightingale, this novel depicts just how far the evil of the Third Reich extended across Europe.
The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah, is listed online as being a number one New York Times bestseller, Wall Street Journal Best Book of the Year, and soon to be a major motion picture. This novel juxtaposes the lives of two sisters, Vianne Mauriac and Isabelle Rossignol. Vianne appears to be the patient and passive older sister, and Isabelle is the wild, willful, and aggressive younger sister. As their journeys unfold in a Nazi occupied, war-ridden France, they experience unimaginable situations that would bring most to the pits of despair. Each sister has her own story of love, loss, difficulty, and triumph, yet both of their lives are intertwined because of the intense connection between sisters, proven to be a bond that cannot be broken. Throughout the book in select chapters, readers are also taken to 1995 when one of the sisters describes her life as an elderly woman who has hidden her past from her son. However, readers are not given any indication as to which sister it is until the very last chapter.
As Vianne's husband is off to fight for France in the war, she is left with her young daughter in their home in Carriveau (a fictional town in France). With her husband gone, Vianne's home quickly becomes full as she takes in her sister, a Nazi soldier, and other unexpected guests, like a SS-Sturmbannführer, as residents. While living with the German soldiers, Vianne slowly begins to experience the atrocities of the Nazis as she becomes exposed to the truth of the presence of the Germans in her city. Vianne is forced to make heart breaking decisions that only a mother could make in attempts to save her family. Vianne's actions and decisions are true examples of a mother's love, towards her own child and other children. Though originally it seems Vianne is far different than her strong-willed sister, readers find out that they share more than they know.
Isabelle is no stranger to the atrocities that the Germans are capable of, and she is not afraid to show her disgust towards them. While staying with Vianne, she knows that she has to do more than the small tasks she is being asked to do. Leaving Vianne in Carriveau, Isabelle finds a way to return to Paris in attempts to make a difference in the war as she joins the Resistance movement being formed to thwart the Nazi regime. Her strong will leads her to take on a role that will change not only her life, but those she comes in contact with. Isabelle becomes a leading figure in the movement in France, as she risks her life each day to save others. Though in her past Isabelle was a firecracker, she learns to control the fire within her and uses it towards a cause bigger than she could have ever imagined.
The sisters' actions depict the very real responses that people in this time and place may have had during these terrifying events. Isabelle's response was an aggressive outward stance towards the Germans, as she was not afraid to express her opinions and fight for what she believed. Vianne's initial response was to turn a cheek to the terror that Nazis brought to her town and country. Though Vianne initially took a passive stance, the toll of seeing horrible things happen to those she loved turned her into the strong woman she was destined to become. Both sisters' courageous actions made them heroes in their own rite. The actions of these two sisters in this novel represent the women and men who often go unrecognized in history as aiding in efforts to help during the war. In interviews, Kristin Hannah explains that Vianne and Isabelle are fictional figures inspired by the real-life Resistance activities that occurred in Europe. The members of the Resistance network, like the one Isabelle was a member of, impacted the war in their historic efforts in fighting hate and pure evil.
Kristin Hannah intricately creates the relationships between the characters in this novel. The detailed connection between the people brought the characters to life, as the human connection is the most important piece of this book. Two key relationships in the novel are that of Vianne and Beck, the Nazi soldier initially billeting in her home, and the relationship between the two sisters and their father. Both of these relationships offer unique, unexpected, and intriguing story lines that are sure to pull readers in. In addition to the love shared between family, an essential piece to this novel is that it does not forget romance, as readers are offered the love story of Vianne and Antoine, and Isabelle and Gäetan. Both stories show that though love during war is difficult and painful, it can at times be the only thing worth holding onto.This novel is a story of love and loss, and the sacrifices that are made for love and what is right. To truly grasp the beauty of this book, one must read it! Simply put, this novel is brilliantly written.
I honestly can say I have never cried so much or so hard while reading any book. There were times of deep sorrow, yet acts of pure love that touch the heart in a spellbinding way. In any historical fiction based in a time of such tragedy, I believe it is essential that this human emotion goes beyond the pages - which The Nightingale does beautifully. This book is haunting, as the intensity of certain situations stayed with me for days. Whether Hannah described a beautiful scene in Le Jardin with the smell of flowers and children laughing, or the horrifying smell and sights of being in a train car with fifty other women, all of my senses were activated and I could feel myself there in each moment. This ease in which I could place myself in the book made it so much more heartbreaking when something bad happened, but so much more beautiful when something good occurred. I have endless good things to say about this book but truly believe the book will speak for itself. I would highly recommend this book to ALL readers. My belief is that it will become a top read for those who read it, as it quickly became my number one book of the year so far!
Purchasing information note: I really encourage readers to make their purchases from whichever store or website they prefer. Though I buy my books online due to convenience, I believe it is important to purchase from local book stores to support your community! Title: The Nightingale Author: Kristin Hannah Hardcover: 440 pages Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (February 3, 2015) Price: Taylor Books (Charleston, West Virginia) $13.84