I’ve heard so many good things about Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale that I bumped it to the top of my reading list despite feeling a bit burned out on WWII books. I’m glad I listened to the recommendations.
The Nightingale is set in France, partly in Paris but mostly in a small, rural village called Carriveau. It follows two very different sisters, Vianne Mauriac (married name) and Isabelle Rossignol.
Fortunately for Vianne, the man she married, Antoine, was a rock. They had a solid, loving, mutually supportive marriage, although the supporting was mainly done by Antoine. Isabelle stayed with them on and off, but she was a difficult child. When Vianne lost another baby, she was too grief-stricken to deal with Isabelle and sent her away.
Isabelle experienced a lot of being sent away during her youth. She was constantly being expelled from the boarding schools her father sent her to. And when she tried to go to her father in Paris, he couldn’t be bothered. She grew up fiercely independent, yet needy.
War breaks out. Antoine is sent to the front lines. Vianne is left to cope. She and Antoine now have a young daughter, Sophie, and Vianne realizes she has to be strong for their child. Isabelle is sent away from Paris as it becomes too dangerous and she comes to the little town to join them. During the evacuation of Paris, she meets and falls in love with Gaetan, a young man determined to fight the Germans from within France. But he, too, abandons her to pursue his dangerous goals.
Things really fall apart when the Germans invade Carriveau. A German officer moves in to Vianne’s home. She is ready to do anything to protect Sophie. Isabelle is much more rebellious and willing to risk all to resist the Germans.
So, the women fight the war on the home front, each in her own way.
This is a touching story of the relationship between sisters, a love tested in every conceivable manner. And it’s a story of a horrific war. The atrocities committed by the Nazis always make reading about WWII depressing and infuriating. People did inhuman things to other people–and it’s painful to read. And yet, it’s uplifting to read about those who resist.
The novel starts off a bit slow, setting the stage for what’s to come. I felt it got a bit repetitive as it reinforced the reasons for the estrangement between the sisters and their personality traits and why they behaved as they did. However, once we get into the meat of the story, the pace really picks up and the conflicts become increasingly emotionally involving. Overall, it’s a wonderful book, deserving of the hype.