Book Review: “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah

11053256_10206275005023564_8471063773187756588_nThis is the beautiful story of two sisters in World War II, as they attempt to navigate their way through a treacherous new world.

I’ve always enjoyed reading historical fiction about World War II. Of course, as with any historical fiction, there are good ones and there are bad ones. This one happens to be one of the good ones. It’s sweet and emotional all throughout, and the gut-punch at the end is enough to knock you sideways for days.

The story involves two sisters, the stereotypical “rebel” one (Isabelle) and the “good girl” (Vianne). Vianne is the one who stays behind and imagines “It’ll never happen to me,” … until it does. Isabelle, though only 18, is not afraid to go out and do something, proving the males wrong: “And it’s a fact that women are useless in war. Your job is to wait for our return.” Isabelle does not sit by silently and weep, but instead goes and does something. This is a refreshing departure from World War II novels that are usually centered on male and/or soldier protagonists.

Vianne continues to lose her freedoms throughout the course of the war, and she continues to deny that anything bad is happening throughout the novel. It isn’t until she loses something very precious to her that she realizes that maybe her sister had the right idea, after all. By then, it might be far too late for her to do anything about her fate.

The novel spans several years, and is technically a frame story. We start and end (with several interruptions in between) at an awards ceremony for people who helped others escape the horrors of the war, where the special guest is someone most unexpected.

I give this book a recommended rating, with a 4.5/5 stars. The writing is much better than several other historical fictions I’ve read. However, there are some things that don’t settle too well with me, but for the most part, I had to stay up all night reading it, to find out how it would end. And then I wanted to throw the book across the room. The ending may make you rage, but the journey to the end is well worth it. I loaned it to my mother, and she had the same reaction I did when it ended.

The one memory I will never forget about working at BAM involves this novel. I was helping a lady pick out books one rainy night, because she said she was about to have a long hospital stay. I asked her what she enjoyed, and directed her to this one, because it seemed to fit her reading style. She said, “This looks wonderful.” Turns out, she was about to start a two month hospital stay because she was going through an intensive round of chemotherapy to eradicate an aggressive cancer that came back several years after she was declared cancer-free.

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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 a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

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 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. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures 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.

  • Hardcover: 440 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
  • Published: February 3, 2015
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312577223
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