Title: The Nightingale
Author: Kristin Hannah
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical Fiction, World War II
First Publication: 2015
Major Characters: Vianne (Rossignol) Mauriac, Isabelle Rossignol, Julien Rossignol, Wolfgang Beck, Sturmbannführer Von Richter, Gaëtan Dubois, Rachel de Champlain, Sophie Mauriac, Ariel (Ari) de Champlain, Antoine Mauriac
Theme: The changing nature of love in wartime; ways of expressing (or failing to express) love; loyalty; gender inequality and cultural expectations; complicity with evil; the humanity of enemies; what makes a life worth living
Setting: Carriveau, France; Paris, France; Oregon, USA; various French towns; Spain; Germany
Narrator: Third Person from Vianne’s and Isabelle’s point of view
Book Summary: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
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.
Book Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is a historical fiction, set in German-occupied France during WWII. Spanning the years of the war, this riveting story follows two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, as they struggle to survive and persevere through the Nazi invasion. Their parallel stories are as different as their personalities, but are just as suspenseful, complicated, and emotional. As the reader, you get to see the war that was taking place on the home front from each sister’s unique vantage point. It is a heart wrenching, beautiful and tragic story.
As the older sister, Vianne feels responsible for keeping her younger sister, Isabelle, safe. When the occupation begins, Isabelle is sent to stay with Vianne in the country, being cast out of Paris by her father. Vianne’s husband, Antoine, has been called to report to the Army, leaving Vianne and their young daughter, Sophie, behind. As the Germans invade Paris, Isabelle begins the trek to her sister’s home, witnessing the atrocities committed by the invading troops firsthand.
“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.”
By the time that Isabelle arrives on Vianne’s doorstep, she is determined to join the resistance and make a difference. Young and impulsive, Vianne is certain that her younger sister will get herself, if not all of them, killed. Their relationship is tenuous, at best, and Vianne struggles to get through to her strong-minded sibling.
Vianne is naive, having not witnessed the actions of the invading Nazis, as her sister had. She believes that if they keep their heads down and don’t draw attention to themselves, they’ll be okay. She follows the rules and tries to reign in Isabelle’s defiant behaviors before it is too late.
However, as time passes and the occupation grows increasingly difficult, the sisters go their separate ways. Each of them sets out on a different course, trying to survive the best way they know how. Despite the distance between them, each sister ends up fighting the Nazi invasion in different ways. The bold and daring Isabelle actively assists allied airmen in their escapes, while the mild-mannered Vianne begins helping hide away Jewish children.
“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.”
While there was romance in The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, it took a back stage to the war story. However, this gripping story held my attention from start to finish. This is a beautifully written, inspiring story. I loved every minute of it!
Although The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is considered fiction, it is firmly planted in well-researched truth. Isabelle’s character is based on the late Andrée de Jongh (1916-2007), an amazing woman who repeatedly risked her life helping British and American servicemen escape on foot from Nazi-occupied Belgium and France.
Sadly, Andrée de Jongh is only one of the many quiet heroes that our future generations will likely never know if not for inspired authors like Kristin Hannah.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah offers a story of women surviving in unthinkable circumstances – the underestimated gender finding a way to take action. It shows readers that at times protectiveness requires dangerous risks, fear often proceeds acts of bravery, and those who may appear weak can indeed possess incredible strength. I didn’t want this book to end because it’s not just about the ravages of war, it’s also about love, life, and rebellious courage.
“Some stories don’t have happy endings. Even love stories. Maybe especially love stories.”
These women, who had everything (and everyone) to lose, put it all on the line to help others. I have been spared from the direct horrors of war, but I asked the same question that Ms. Hannah herself asked in an interview about her book, “I found myself consumed with a single, overwhelming question, as relevant today as it was seventy years ago: When would I, as a wife and mother, risk my life — and more important, my child’s life — to save a stranger?”
Most of us wouldn’t. But which is worst: The fear of the risk or the fear of letting children grow up in a world where good people do nothing to stop evil?
The author’s writing skills are powerful as she captures the heart-breaking devastation that the Nazis inflicted onto their community. It was so hard to read about the Jewish women and children rounded up and deported. With a high dose of adrenaline, fear, and courage and told beautifully and respectful, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is a must read for anyone who likes Historical fiction books.