The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Review of an outstanding book that left me bereft, haunted and with a huge book hangover.

Synopsis

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 good-bye 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, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gaëtan, 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 World War II 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.

 

 

Audiobook Review

 

All the stars and huge book hangover. Excellent narrator.

 

“Wounds heal, love lasts, we remain.”

 

I honestly don’t know what my review will add to an ocean of reviews but… I just WANT to write my thoughts.

 

First, I had that book on my shelf for more than one year and it’s because next book club month is about another book of Kristin Hannah that I decided, finally, to grab it.

And I immediately wondered why I had waited so long before reading it!

 

Second, that book…left me a bawling mess.

I finished at midnight with puffy eyes, woke up at 4 am, unable to fall back asleep, reinventing the end.

It’s been days now since I finished it and it still resonates deep inside of me.

 

Third, that book is profoundly human. Or rather it shows us what humanity is capable of, the worse but also the best. I also liked that it showed that in that war, of course some Germans were evil, the Gestapo, the SS … but not all German soldiers were bad people. Many had no idea beginning that war what would be asked of them and were ashamed by what they saw, what they were asked to do. And that’s important to highlight.

 

Fourth, as often in books about WWII, I am left wondering what I would have done. Would have I had the courage to help others knowing my life, my family’s life would be in danger? Or would have I been a coward, shut my eyes, and minded my own business?

I know I wouldn’t have helped and sided with the oppressor, that much I know.

But as far as courage is concerned, I don’t honestly know. And I pray that I’ll never be in a position to know, ever.

 

But let’s go to the story, the writing, the characters now.

 

Kristin Hannah has an incredible penmanship. Her story is flowing effortlessly, sweeping us off our feet to follow Vianne and Isabelle’s tragic story. I will paraphrase the synopsis in this: with courage, grace and powerful insight, Kristin Hannah captures the big panorama of WWII.

From the countless stories my great grand-mother told me about that war I know that the author did a thorough and delicate work on that topic.

 

We follow these two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, whose childhood has been marked by the loss of their mother and the abandonment of their father.

Vianne will turn to Antoine to find love and protection, marrying young, miscarrying several times before having a daughter, Sophie. In her heartbreak, she will neglect her younger sister and Isabelle will feel rejected once again.

Isabelle will then spend her life trying to be loved by someone. And that broke my heart. All her feelings of abandonment were hard to read about.

 

The sisters are nothing alike at first glance.

Vianne the dutiful wife, mother, housewife. Scared to stand on her own two feet and needing the strength of a man to move on with her life.

While Isabelle is independent, reckless, fiery and fearless.

 

But war will reveal that they are more alike than what seems on the surface and that both Rossignol ‘Nightingale)’s sister are strong women. Because being strong is not being unafraid. Being strong is to do the right thing despite your fear.

And if Isabelle will join the resistance and help countless  Allied airmen to get back to UK, risking her life time and again, Vianne won’t hesitate to do the right thing and help many children, all while fearing for her life and her daughter’s.

 

I loved how Kristin Hannah eased us into the budding feelings between Vianne and her guest. Even if of course I didn’t want her to turn her back on Antoine, I could understand why these feelings emerged. In soft strokes, Kristin Hannah painted the portrait of a courageous yet tired mother and that of a courteous soldier who is missing his family and whose need to protect is deep, his world shaken by the atrocities he has witnessed.

 

There are so many shades of grey in life, and even more in war time.

 

And I didn’t speak yet of the hard winters, the lack of food, the mental torture, the deportation, all things that made the canvas of that profoundly human story.

 

In the end, in that war, so many women were as courageous as men. But often, they stayed in the shadows. Men could not conceive that some of the bravest acts came from women.

“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.”

 

 

I never guessed that ending. Or rather I thought I had…another character figured out and that left me …devastated. There is no other word.

It’s been at least more than one year since a book moved me in such way and left me bereft.

This is a true masterpiece and far from the last one I read by that author.

 

NOTE

On a last note, I looked into what Isabelle is doing in this book, wondering if what she did was inspired by real characters and I found to my utter astonishment that it was one of my compatriot, the Belgian Andrée de Jongh, who helped save 118 Allied airmen get back to safety. From Wikipedia:

“The characters in The Nightingale are not themselves real people, though some of their actions are based on real historical figures. Isabelle’s escape route over the Pyrenees for downed Allied airmen was based on the Comet line of 24-year-old Andrée de Jongh, a Belgian woman who helped aviators and others escape.[4] Much like Isabelle, de Jongh personally escorted many over the Pyrenees on foot; by the end of the war, she had aided 118 airmen.”

 

Have you read that story?

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Sophie

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17 Replies to “The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Review of an outstanding book that left me bereft, haunted and with a huge book hangover.”

  1. It’s been about 5 years since I read The Nightingale so details might be fuzzy but I definitely still remember how it made me feel. That book broke me. Kristin Hannah has long been a favorite but this one is without a doubt her best.

  2. I read this and adored it too, Sophie! I’m glad to see that you got around to it yourself! 😀 Makes me miss a solid historical fiction all of a sudden! 😛 Great review!

    1. Thank you Lashaan! And if you want a good historical fiction, try The Huntress by kate Quinn!

  3. I’ve been wanting to pick this up for so so long, it sounds like it’s going to be utterly fantastic

    1. They are Autumn!

  4. Every review I’ve read of this book is a glowing one like yours, I may need to see what I’m missing and read it at some point

    1. I hope you will Tammy!

  5. Wow!! What an awesome review Sophie!! I knew you would love it and the fact that it wrecked you speaks volumes. It stayed with me for a very long time and I know it will be the same for you. I’m so happy you finally listened to me and gave it a chance!

    1. Yes Susan! Best advice ever!

  6. Ugly cry! Fab review!

    1. Thank you Trisy!

  7. This book made me feel way too much. I was a hot mess. It so sad, yet uplifting at the same time, and I think it does have a lot to do with, as you said, how profoundly human it was. I read this years ago, but it left a lasting impression

    1. I think I’ll remember that oen for a long time Sam!

  8. Such a fab review!

    1. Thank you Caro!

  9. AMAZING REVIEW!!! ❤️ I’m SO glad you liked it, I have it in my TBR for so long and for one thing or another I’ve never read it, but I must ✨

    1. Thank you Sofii! And yes I am smitten LOL

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