Monday, February 2, 2015

(8)The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Isabelle and Vianne are two French sisters who have not had an easy life.  Their mother died when they were young and their father  sent the sisters away to live with distant family so he could drown his grief in whiskey.  Even though Vianne was the much older sister she wanted very little to do with young Isabelle, instead finding solace in a local boy.  Over the years the sisters grew further apart and tried very hard to forget the other existed.  Until World War II and the French surrendered to the Germans.  Then the sisters had one thing in common - survival.  But, they go about it in different ways.  Isabelle runs off to work with the Resistance in shepherding fallen airmen across the Pyrenees Mountains to freedom.   Isabelle knows that what she is doing is dangerous and could get her killed or worse - sent to a Camp, but she does it because it is all she can do.   Vianne stays behind in their little village and tries to survive the best she can with a German officer staying in her home.   But when the SS comes for Vianne's best friend, Rachel, her place in the war has been solidified.  Vianne knows that she must help the young Jewish children of her village, she must keep them safe when their parents are sent off to the camps.  Will the two sisters survive the war despite the great risks they are taking and at what cost to their relationship - to their family?

The Nightingale is quite the powerful novel about love and honor in the face of the most horrific situations.  The story starts out in Oregon in 1995 with an elderly woman who is preparing to sell her home and move into a nursing home to please her son, Julien.  She is remembering the woman she once was and the life she once led in France.  The story then flashes back to 1939 France and we meet Isabelle and Vianne.  As with any Kristin Hannah novel, it is so easy to get lost in the story full of love and war, but more so in The Nightingale.  The story takes us to another time and place that often gets forgotten in our daily lives.   The two sisters are so different.  Isabelle is young and impetuous.  A rebel.  And Vianne is a complacent wife and mother who just wants to keep her head down and do as told.    You can see right away where the different temperaments would cause friction between the two sisters and the friction is there for most of the novel, sometimes to the point of frustration for the reader, but in the end it only adds to the story.It takes Vianne a while to fully understand the atrocities of the war, but once she does, there is no stopping her.   Vianne and Isabelle may be fictional characters, but men and women all over Europe were performing similar acts of heroism during the war and The Nightingale draws attention to those forgotten heroes and it is important that we remember those acts of heroism.

Bottom line, it is easy for my generation to let the atrocities of World War II fall to the far recesses of our mind.  We didn't live through it, odds are our parents didn't live through it either, or if they did they were too young to remember.  We likely don't have that personal connection to keep us from forgetting.    It is why books like The Nightingale are so important, they keep us from forgetting and help us to remember that our world is safe because so many lost their lives to ensure it.



Anonymous said...

Wonderful, terrible book.
I couldn't put it down..

Germany and Japan have so much to answer for...
Incomprehensible evil....that was real.

Amazing bravery, against impossible hardship...

Suzanne said...

I read without knowing what it was about, just knowing that it was Kristin Hannah and that you (among others) were recommending it. And so it became the sixth book I read this year that was set in WW2 (4 on purpose, 2 accidentally!). But oh, it was so good and so worth it. I loved this story, and it has become one of my favorite books of the year.

Charlotte's Web of Books said...

I am glad that you both enjoyed The Nightingale. Even after all these months it still resonates with me!

Why I Read...

I remember the carefree summer days when I used to ride my bike to the public library to pick out new books. I would go almost daily to find books to read. I read to learn. I read to explore the world. I read to escape. I read because not reading is not an option.

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