Thursday, January 29, 2015

Book Review: The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah

Book review of The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
I adored this poignant and chilling novel about two sisters in France during WWII, each fighting the war in their own way. Hannah has brought this time in history back to life in The Nightingale.

After Vianne's father came back from the war (the first world war) he wasn't the same. After her mother died, her father took Vianne and her sister, Isabelle to a small town in France and left them with a strange and cruel woman. Vianne has an easier time forgetting and falls in love and settles down and gives birth to a daughter, Sophie. Isabelle is sent to boarding school after boarding school, each of which she escapes from. As much as she longs for her father's love, he won't take her in.

It's 1939 and Vianne's husband, Antoine, gets called to serve in the French army, and is promptly captured by the Germans as they invade. Isabelle tries to escape Paris, but ends up on a long, deadly march with hundreds of thousands of people. On this march she meets Gaetan and completely and totally falls in love. She finally makes it to Vianne, is abandonded by Gaetan, and they try to scrape out a living as things get worse and worse. A German soldier is billeted with them which is awkward, but actually helpful since he brings them food when no one else has any.

This is a many faceted story. Vianne's best friend, whose husband is also captured, is Jewish. So you know that's not going to end well.

Isabelle can't keep her mouth shut and cannot stand by and do nothing, so she secretly joins the resistance and eventually goes to Paris. Her escapades get more and more dangerous. Gaetan is also in the resistance, but they rarely see each other.

While the first German soldier to live with Vianne is nice, the second one is a member of the Gestapo and, well, he mistreats Vianne in every way you can imagine.

Isabelle ends up being captured and is sent to Ravensbrock concentration camp. If you've read Rose Under Fire, this should sound familiar.

I cannot explain the hunger and cold and the general cruelty of the Germans, but Hannah had me shivering. What really stands out is the bravery of these women. Each in their own way. The sisters are very different and don't have a very good relationship. When Isabelle threatens Vianne's safety, she cannot understand. She thinks Isabelle is impetuous and immature. But eventually Vianne realizes that at some point you have to say "no." You have to stand up for something, even if you are putting yourself and those you love at risk.

I tend to think I'd be like Vianne. Be quiet and don't make waves. Accept your fate and just try to muddle through. But I hope, like Vianne, that I would reach a limit to my need for self-preservation and do something to stand up for what is right. I know it's difficult to predict how one would react in those exceptional circumstances.

It's a beautiful story that had me tearing up a few times. There is a present-day narrator (I won't say who) that is going to a reunion in France for those that were part of the resistance. She has never told her son, who is going with her, anything about her past.

The Nightingale is an adult book, but I would, as you can probably tell, recommend this book to anyone. I've read many of Hannah's books, but The Nightingale is by far the best. (Not that I haven't enjoyed her other novels.) If you enjoyed Rose Under Fire, or Carnegie Medal winner Tamar, I would recommend The Nightingale. And alternatively, if you're looking for something after reading The Nightingale, consider those books.

Published by St. Martin's Press, February 3, 2015
eARC obtained from NetGalley
448 pages

Rating: 5/5

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1 comment:

  1. Wow! This books sounds super good! I like your way of describing the story and the characters--It definitely makes me want to pick it up! I have a couple of Kristin Hannah's books that I have picked up from second hand shops, but have yet to read them. You've made me decide to move them up on my TBR!


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