Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Review: The Nightingale

The Nightingale
By Kristin Hannah
Published: February 3, 2015

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 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.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah takes her talented pen to 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.

My review:

The Nightingale is a novel about life in WWII France but it is also about the complications of relationships, particularly familial bonds and what it is like when someone you love leaves you behind. Vianne and Isabelle lose their mother at a young age and then are left by their father at the home of a relative. Later Vianne sends Isabelle away to boarding school when she becomes too difficult. There is a recurring theme of leaving and being left behind throughout the book that gives it a deeper sadness.  The novel also explores what it means to be brave and how Isabelle and Vianne go about that in different ways.

Vianne is a very mothering and nurturing person. She basically had to take over as a mother for Isabelle when their mom died and their dad couldn't handle parenting. Vianne married young and she and her husband Antoine kept Isabelle with them but a tragedy and Isabelle's increasingly difficult behavior led to the decision to send her to boarding school. Since then the sisters have been estranged. Everything changes when the Germans invade Paris and Isabelle returns to Carriveau to live with Vianne and Sophie, Vianne's young daughter.

There is friction between the two sisters as old resentments resurface. Their differing views about the war with Germany creates tension as well. Isabelle survived the long and dangerous trek from Paris to Carriveau. She saw people get gunned down in front of her and she knows that the war isn't going to end quickly and peaceably. She wants to do her part to stop the Germans even if it means putting Vianne and Sophie in danger. She views it as her duty to her country to be loud and vocally opposed to the German captain now living in their home. Eventually Isabelle joins the French Resistance where she is reunited with Gäetan, the young man who inspired her on the journey from Paris. 

Vianne on the other hand still believes that her husband and the other brave French soldiers will prevail and that they need to keep their heads down and get on with living without angering the Germans. Unlike Isabelle, Vianne remembers the last German occupation during WWI and this colors her perspective. She doesn't want a repeat of all the hardships they suffered and is sure it won't come to that until it does. Vianne's main concern is her daughter Sophie and her Jewish best friend and neighbor Rachel and her children. 

The Nightingale is a powerful and moving story. The characters are well developed and multifaceted. I loved how Vianne and Isabelle came to understand each other and their father and by the novel's end saw their relationships in a different light. The book makes you feel strong emotions both sadness and admiration for the characters and what they went through.  I've heard Kristin Hannah's fans say that this is the best book she's written and I certainly hope she writes more historical fiction in this vein. I thought the book reminded me a little bit of Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein as well as similar elements in Jojo Moyes's The Girl You Left Behind (though The Nightingale was much better than that WWI novel). Readers who enjoy historical fiction should definitely give The Nightingale a try. 

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley


  1. I am so glad you liked this one. I thought it was so powerful as well and one of my favorite books of the year. Very moving and you are right....very emotional! I hope Hannah continues to write historical fiction too. I was shocked at how well she did. I was disappointed with the last book I read that she wrote (Fly Away), so this was a nice surprise. Great review, Christina!

  2. So many people have recommend this one. I do have it on my Kindle. Your review was great and it made me want to be sure I read this book this summer. Thanks!

  3. I've had this recommended to me over and over again! It sounds amazing.

  4. Great review. I have this book but I have not read it yet. I love Kristin Hannah and I love books about WWII!

  5. I loved The Nightingale, my favourite of Kristin's! Almost as good, is her other historical fiction Winter Garden. I'm sure you'd love it too.

  6. I read two of her other books and I can see why people say this is her best one. This was my first Kristin Hannah book and was so impressed. I loved it, and am glad you did too.


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