After a month or so of sticking mainly to Young Adult fiction, I felt the need to read a “grown-up” book and one of the most frequently talked about books online was The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, a book full of emotion and guaranteed to make you cry was the vibe that people game me about this story and it sounded like just what I was looking for.
Set in France during the Nazi occupation of the Second World War we follow two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle and their two different experiences during this time. Vianne lives just outside of a small village with her daughter Sophie and husband Antoine who is called away to fight for France and upon their surrender is captured as a Prisoner of War. Her younger sister Isabelle is a willful 17-year-old who has been expelled from countless boarding schools and is sent to live with her sister during the war by their father who has had little contact with his daughters since the death of his wife many years before.
The first thing I loved about this book was the way that we followed the two sisters throughout the years of the war, from the early years when hope was high and people believed it wouldn’t go on too long and that human kind would never be so cruel as to allow the kinds of torture the Nazi’s would inflict upon people. From their different perspectives, it’s a really insightful book as we see the two sides to the story. Isabelle’s strong beliefs and outspoken nature mean she struggles to be complacent with the changes to French life when the German’s arrive and take over. She is insolent and headstrong and this leaves her sister fearing she will do something to place them all in danger.
Vianne, on the other hand, is trying to comply where she can, to keep her head down and raise no attention to herself and her daughter. When a German officer begins living in her home she struggles with reconciling the image of the harsh Nazi officer with the sometimes gentle and kind man she meets. People begin to question if she is too close to her lodger and she feels it hard to judge what is acceptable to take for her survival and what to be classed as collaborating.
From these point of view of these two different women we follow the resistance movement during the war, the defiant and dangerous acts that were undertaken to help allied pilots who became stranded in France and also the risks taken to help protect Jewish children from the prisoner of war camps. The tearing apart of families and the loss of friends and the sense of community.
I love that we see two different extremes of the German officer, it was nice to not have them all painted as intrinsically evil but instead to look at the internal struggles many suffered as the German campaign to eradicate Jewish people grew as the war went on. Whilst many reveled in the power it brought them others just wanted to go home to their families as much as the French women longed for their men to come home.
This book was beautifully written, it was such a wonderful story of sisterhood, family, motherhood and the things we will do to survive. A really moving piece and at times, as promised, a tear-jerker. I now understand why it is given such wonderful reviews and is regarded so highly. It was my first Kristin Hannah novel but I am sure after this it will not be my last.