Historical Fiction Review: The Nightingale (2015) by Kristin HannahThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 3rd 2015
Genres: Adult, Contemporary Women, Fiction, Historical
Pages: 448
Goodreads
five-stars

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.

Illuminations:

If you’re reading this, then the very next thing you do after you finish this post is to go immediately and secure of copy of The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah!

TRUST ME.

This book is THAT GOOD. I haven’t read a book in awhile that has touched me quite like this one has—the last one might have been Code Name Verity. This is an amazing, heartbreaking, moving, and powerful story set during a time in our history that changed the world in so many ways…and revealed the courage and bravery of so many people. It’s been awhile since I cried over a book like The Nightingale. If a book makes me laugh, that’s good, but if a book can make me cry, then it’s usually REALLY GOOD. And I would have to say that Kristin Hannah’s newest book really is superb, in my book at least.

This is a book to get excited about.

group excited

One aspect of this novel concerns how women (in the Resistance and outside of it) risked their lives and the lives of their families through their simple and courageous acts of bravery and love to save others during World War II. Relationships are tested, and the women in this book have to make huge sacrifices in the face of war. They are faced with the possibility of people they love being shipped away or worse, and they are prepared to take these steps of sacrifice.

Love, family, heartbreak, and war—it’s not surprising that all these elements fit into this novel, but it’s their treatment that, to me, was particularly well-executed.

The book opens in 1939, in France, but a few chapters shift all the way into 1995. The reader isn’t told the perspective of the character in the 1995 chapters, so nothing is really given away there. The events of the book continue to the end of the war, and finally, jump forward to 1995 again.

“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.”

Spiritual Illuminations:

Vianne’s Love & Sacrifice for Children: Vianne doesn’t just love and care for her own children—she risks her life to shelter the children of others who are Jewish, so that they might have a chance at survival. Vivian is different than her sister, Isabelle, but that doesn’t mean she is any less brave or courageous. She fights her own war, and this makes all the difference for certain families. (But no spoilers here!) I definitely saw this as a spiritual aspect of the story, because Vianne really had to move into selflessness (as many people did during WWII) in order to save and protect those around her. In this way, I think the spirituality of her character is revealed.

The Family Dynamic: In addition to depicting the relationship between Vianne and Isabelle, the book also introduces us to the girls’ father—largely absent during their childhood after their mother died. However, the war is surprising in the way it can either bring families together or tear them apart. I appreciated the depiction of the father and daughters throughout the book—it’s not a perfect situation, and all three family members have their flaws, but love is the stronger force. What happens among the three family members took me by surprise. I started the story, having a particular conception of the girls’ father, but my perspective of his character evolved throughout the narrative and was quite different by the end. In this way, I think Hannah successfully fleshed out multiple characters about whom I cared a lot.

“But love has to be stronger than hate, or there is no future for us.”

Who Should Read This Book:

If you are an avid reader of WWII fiction, then by all means, make sure this book is on your shelf. I had no idea how much I would love this book. I had an inkling I would like it, but I wasn’t prepared by its ability to grip and move me.

If you are a historical fiction fan, I think this story would be one you want to check out. Fans of Kristin Hannah will probably all flock to The Nightingale, but even though I had read one of her books before, this one took on an entirely different status for me because it is historical fiction set during WWII.

I don’t usually bring up Goodreads Stats, but, people, this book has an average 4.53 rating with 13,192 ratings. So!

The Final Illumination:

“Love. It was the beginning and end of everything, the foundation and the ceiling and the air in between.”

At 440 pages, I wouldn’t have minded if this novel had continued on. It was stunning. Marvelous. Luminous. Moving. Heartbreaking. Hopeful. Beautiful.

This reminded me of Code Name Verity and also Rose Under Fire, both by Elizabeth Wein. Some aspects of it made me think about Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman, and I couldn’t help but remember one of my other favorite WWII historical novels, The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer.

And I hope you will host it on your bookshelf and see for yourself.

Did you read The Nightingale? Are you planning to?!? No pressure here….

 

five-stars
What Katie Read