The Nightingale: WWII historical fiction
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published 2015, 566 pages
This has been on my shelves for a while and now I'm sorry I waited so long to read it! Wow - what a journey this book is! In the Author's Note, Hannah says the story grew from a story she read while researching another book and as she read more about the women of the French resistance, she felt she had to tell their story. From the first sentence, I was in:
"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."
We meet sisters Vianne and Isabella as young girls in France before WWII. Told primarily as a memory, we learn a bit of their life pre-war and get a very early and strong impression of their personalities. Vianne, a few years older, happily married with a daughter, living quietly in a small town. Isabella, firey, rebellious, lonely and suffering from the feeling no one wants her, escaping from boarding school after school. From this rocky beginning, the story unfolds.
The Journey of Two Sisters
The sisters' journeys together and apart through the horrors of war depict the struggles of women and children left behind in a war-occupied country. Unbelievable hardships that are impossible to imagine and yet are common to war are vividly described. Every conceivable type of loss is endured. And yet, they persevere.
Vianne stays in her home as her husband is forced into the French army and the Nazis come to occupy her village. She is forced to billet an officer; she struggles to feed her child and survive through harsh winters and continually diminishing resources. She starts out as a fearful woman totally reliant on her husband and lost when he's gone, but over the years finds a core of steel that helps her continue on, even as the world falls apart around her.
"I don't know what to do anymore. Antoine always took care of everything. The Wehrmacht and the Gestapo are more than I can handle." "Don't think about who they are. Think about who you are and what sacrifices you can live with and what will break you."
At 18 years old, Isabella finds herself working with the French resistance. Her recklessness hides her fear as she volunteers for more and more dangerous missions. She ends up helping to guide downed pilots to safety out of France. That's a compelling part of the story and a testament to what a determined woman can do.
"Ask for help when you need it, and give help when you can. I think that is how we serve God - and each other and ourselves - in times as dark as these."
The story weaves back and forth between the two women in a perfect pattern of love and loss and love again. These two sisters are such complete characters and the story is so engrossing. I love this kind of historical fiction.
This was a 4 hanky read - I haven't cried this much over a book in ages. Touching, heartbreaking, yet also filled with love and hope, always hope. Because, what else can you have when faced with such horror and hell?
"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."
Definitely recommended for bookclubs - so much to talk about. Don't let the length deter you.....it reads so smoothly, the pages fly by.
Kristin Hannah, a local author
I'll proudly claim Kristin Hannah as a local (Washington) author that I'm going to add to my "must read everything she's written" list! Surprisingly, I discovered she's written over 20 books, so I better get busy! I read The Great Alone a couple years ago and was thoroughly drawn into that dark, difficult story, just like I was with this one. I don't know how great authors make their stories great - I don't know what magic they use, but there's definitely a big difference between an average book and something like this!