Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Nightingale: A Passionate Tale of Love and Courage in War

Hey guys,
I know I haven't posted a while so that's my bad. :( For the past few weeks, I haven't been reading a lot so again, that's on me. So for any of you who has been craving my book reviews, here's the big moment! :)
Today, I will be reviewing The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. LOL, her name though. So without further ado, I give you the usual summary from Goodreads...

FRANCE, 1939

“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."

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 France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another. 
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 the compelling and mysterious 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. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real--and deadly--consequences.

So let's talk review stars. Out of five stars, I give The Nightingale FOUR STARS for an amazing, touching and tragic book that depicts the all-too-real destruction of Europe during and after World War II. I've always been a stickler to the historical fiction and romance and The Nightingale is no different. The first chapter of the book starts off with a mystery woman who is dying of cancer. She heads up to her cellar and pulls out an old trunk and suddenly we are thrust back to the mid 1900s in France on the verge of war. 
In the past, we meet Vianne and her sister, Isabelle, separated by location and emotional strain. Isabelle lives in Paris and Vianne lives in the countryside. Vianne is older than Isabelle and has her own family. When her husband is called off to war, Vianne, a woman who has always relied on her husband for support, feels vulnerable and weak without him. Things worsen when Isabelle joins her after her Paris home is bombed. Isabelle is like a little firecracker and she is furious about the invasion of the Nazis into her home. While Vianne accepts her fate and wants to wait it out, Isabelle is hell-bent on resisting. When a Nazi officer demands to board in Vianne's house, the strain between the sisters grows. Soon after a few fights, Isabelle leaves to join the Resistance, a secret group of rebels who defy the Nazi's rule. 

To be perfectly honest, I knew The Nightingale was going to be a riveting read. However, I had no idea how quickly it pulled me in. From the beginning, the author did a great job of setting the mood and creating suspense (with the mystery woman).  The terror and paranoia that the French felt underneath Nazi rule was reinforced again and again in the book and Hannah did a great job of showing how bit by bit the Nazis grew a little colder, a little harsher, a little crueler, even in a fictional setting. In the book, I felt the pain of Vianne's Jewish friend, Rachel, whose rights were taken away as time passed. I don't want to spoil too much but I'll say this: this book hurts.

I also loved the juxtaposition of Vianne and Isabelle. Here we have two very different yet similar women. Vianne is the typical wife, the mother and the protector. She is a gentle spirit whose patience and quick wit guides her through the dangerous times in France. Isabelle, on the other hand, is unrestrained and fiery. She doesn't want to be held down and pushed around by the enemy. She wants to stand up and fight and it is quite inspiring. Not gonna lie, the ending threw me off a bit (I got a little teary). The two sisters are similar though because they share one important trait: courage. Isabelle acts with physical courage but Vianne also acts with mental courage as well. I don't want to spoil the book but let's just say that they both do tremendous good during the war. The only difference is that they do it in different ways. 

I really liked this book because though I've read a lot of books on WWII, The Nightingale gives us a glimpse of something behind the scenes: the women's struggle during the war. We know pretty well what the men do but what happened to the women is a little more vague. And just because one gender "did" more on the surface doesn't mean that the other gender didn't stand up against what was wrong. Because there is no doubt that the women in this book are exceedingly courageous and truly inspirational. There are some things they go through that are very dark and inhumane. It makes me physically sick to think about what women went through during WWII.

This book is great not because its characters are flawless and heroic. No, it's good because the characters make mistakes. They must decide whether they want to stand up and risk death or stay back to save themselves. They make mistakes regarding family and loved ones but they make up for it and forgive. They grow and mature. Isabelle, for example, changes from a fractious young girl to a young woman who becomes the symbol of the Resistance. There are many dilemmas to be considered and decisions to be made and sometimes the characters don't do the right things. But they try.

This is why The Nightingale is a fantastic read: because it depicts human resilience, faith and love in the face of extreme cruelty and inhumanity. 


Kristin Hannah is an award-winning and bestselling American writer, who has won numerous awards, including the Golden Heart, the Maggie, and the 1996 National Reader's Choice award.