The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (438 pages)
Heat Level: sweet
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

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.

Kristin Hannah eases the reader into THE NIGHTINGALE with a present time, gentle, loving beginning before she changes time back to World War II in France. She weaves a spellbinding story that seems so real one feels as if it is an absolutely true story of two sisters plus all the events and people that impact their lives.

World War I that changed Viann and Isabelle Rossignol’s father, also did its part in making the sisters feel unloved and abandoned. Their need to feel loved colors much of their action. Each of the girls copes in her own way with low self-esteem and that unrelenting desire for love. As the horrors of World War II move into France and settles in like an insatiable monster, the truth of Ms. Hannah’s statement that “In love we find out who we want to be, in war we find out who we are” become very real.

The impetuous Isabelle seems to “rush in where angels fear to tread,” while the older Viann sees herself as weak and unable to cope alone. Yet, both rise above their flaws to survive in the desperate time of war when deprivation is almost unbearable, racial hatred runs amok, and unspeakable atrocities occur. Trust vanishes and the German occupation forces move in, seeking to totally dominate the French people.

Viann and Isabelle, one operating underground and the other operating in plain sight, go quietly about their secret doings. At times, the reader’s senses are reeling with descriptions of atrocities in the villages and towns, but a near sensory overload comes when conditions in the concentrations camps roars to life with the remarkable descriptions Ms. Hannah writes.

However, the daily living is also beautifully revealed that makes the reader smile at the happy times and cry when the devastation comes. How the people survive as the months and years bring more and more deprivation and persecution makes one aware of both the strength and the fragility in each human being.

THE NIGHTINGALE has a multitude of characters (so many that need special recognition), along with clandestine operations that all play important roles in how the French never really give up, but held on until the Allies arrived.

The story ends back in present time with a twist that made me cry, even though it reveals a love so precious.

This is a novel I highly recommend. It is rich with descriptions like: “Roses tumbled like laughter along the ancient stone wall.” “She wanted to bottle how safe she felt in this moment, so she could drink of it later when loneliness and fear left her parched.” “The street was a living breathing dragon of humanity.” It immerses the reader in the horrors of war and how ordinary people, even with their many flaws, become extraordinary. It is beautifully written and memorable!

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