The Nightingale has been out for a while, and while it received a lot of hype and is scheduled to become a movie released next year, starring Dakota and Elle Fanning, I hadn’t heard of it. Call me sheltered and living in a bubble, and it would be true.
It came out in 2015, was a Wall Street Journal Best Book of the Year, and a New York Times #1 Bestseller and still I didn’t hear about it. Guess I wasn’t doing a lot of fiction reading back then. Kudos to my sister-in-law for keeping me in the loop on things and telling me to read it.
The Nightingale tells the story of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, who have a bumpy relationship at best and are further pushed apart through the events of WWII. They are French women who struggle, like everyone did living through World War II, surviving in occupied France. Vianne is the older sister who is married with a daughter and lives in a suburban town, Carriveau. Isabelle is young and carefree, bothered that the French people aren’t doing more to stand up to the Nazis and wants to do something about it.
Kristin Hannah’s depiction of what it was really like at this time in history brings you to tears, makes you laugh out loud, and keeps you turning page after page. They words she uses to illustrate how people had to live off of ration cards, have German soldiers take up residence inside their home, and watch their friends get taken away by the Germans made me feel like I really understood at a whole new level the hardships of war.
This book is not for the faint of heart. There were times that I had to put the book down because it was so depressing. I felt connected to the characters and couldn’t bear to read what they were going through. But then I would rush to pick the book back up because I had to see what happened next.
Truthfully, I kept reading hoping for a happy ending. But this is WWII in France and happy endings were pretty tough to come by. This book is unique in that it tells the story of the woman’s side of WWII and what it was like to be left at home to fight completely different battles than the men on the front lines.
There is beauty at the end, so if you’re like me and you want to quit the story, keep reading.
What I loved about the book was the vivid detail about the characters, situations, and emotions. Kristin Hannah has a unique ability to put you into the story as if you are experiencing it right along with the characters. I am new to her writing and was surprised that I couldn’t fall asleep because I’d get so attached to the story. There were multiple times I’d stay up into the wee hours of the morning, unable to put it down.
What I didn’t love about the book was how sad it was to read about the hardships these characters went through and to realize that her writing is probably pretty accurate. Living in America my entire life, I’ve obviously never had to experience living under occupation by a foreign government. As a history buff, I thought I new a lot about the World Wars, but the history books don’t explain how awful it was in the same way that Kristin Hannah describes.
Reading it during this pandemic was also a different lens to read it through. I found myself thinking during the day about the freedoms that were slowly taken away from the French by the Germans, one piece at a time. At the same time, I’d see our liberties slowly, bit by bit, taken away out of fear or protection by our local, state, and federal government. Granted, wartime is quite different from having to wear a mask in public and wash your hands. But having these changes happen while I was reading the book made it even more apparent.
If you’re looking for a pick-me-up, lighthearted read, this is not your book. But if you’re looking for a great novel that is hard to put down, I’d definitely recommend The Nightingale. And take my advice…have your tissue box nearby.