***MILD SPOILERS AHEAD***
Let me share a fact today, I am attracted to tragedy and I found this out recently. I can not get over war-based historical fiction. I tried, but eventually, between other books of different genres, this genre keeps coming back to me, and I am helpless at stopping it. The tragedy in them excites me and the hope in them soothes my nerves.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is a tale of love and hate, bravery and fear, victory and loss, and much more, stories that are woven by the women of Occupied France.
Vianne and Isabelle Rossignol had never been the sisters their mother had wanted them to be. In fact, they were more away than together. Ever since their beloved mother had died, they had been on their own. Facing abandonment from their Great War veteran father, they found themselves coping with their grief all alone. Neither could comfort the other in their time of shared misery. How could they? A 4-year-old and a 14-year-old hardly have anything in common. When each knew they had nobody but themselves, they looked for whatever could give them comfort and the love that had suddenly disappeared from their lives. While Vianne found herself deeply in love with Antoine, Isabelle was left fending for herself in boarding schools, which she was repeatedly expelled from because of her impetuous nature. Their father remained colder than the winters that befell France.
When the war arrived and the French found themselves under German occupation, Vianne and Isabelle found themselves under the same roof, and yet at the opposing ends of fact and action, like always. Becoming a revolutionary came as second nature to Isabelle, and Vianne, well, she was left to host a German Captain in her large house and just try to survive with her little girl Sophie, waiting and hoping that Antoine would come back soon. As Isabelle’s risk-taking grew, so did her strained relationship with her father who didn’t want her in Paris again. With the danger increasing with every passing day, Vianne and Isabelle found themselves in situations where they had to choose their steps wisely, thinking not about the ones they love but save their own necks and making the right decisions while remaining true to their morales.
Never were they prepared for what they faced, and never in their wildest dreams did they think things would come to what they did.
Ah, what a beauty! What a beauty! I’ve read a few books on WWII but none brings out the lives of women as this book does. I am sure there must be other greater books than this one, but this was my first brush with the lives of women during the war, so my review might sound biased to some. This definitely isn’t going to be the last and you can rest assured, as am I, that I only have forward to look to.
The narrative was lucid and smooth, though I wouldn’t say it was one of the best that I’ve read. There was surely a lack of art and beauty in the prose, it was just simple storytelling, in simple plain words. The characters were limited, a handful of them kept pace throughout while others had reappearances at apt places. Parallel stories ran through, and what struck me most amongst the multiple storylines was the desire to survive, against anything, at all costs, for the loved ones with them and back home. The reckless Isabelle with her adamant nature and the dependent Vianne took most of the space and formed the stories around them. The emotions were displayed beautifully. The lovestruck Isabelle and her anger towards her lover, her steel resolve to help her country thwart the Germans, the pining Vianne and her dilemma at having been at the edge with Beck, at having to make a decision between her honor and her children’s safety, Julien’s regret as an incapable father to his girls and his sacrifice for them, Rachael’s heartbreaking decision to leave her toddler in hope of a better life for him, Sophie’s coming of age when her best friend is killed and having to deal with the repercussions of being a growing child in the time of war…the list is endless. I can’t even begin to fathom how difficult life must have been, how did they find the courage to deal with everyday atrocities, how did they find strength, both physical and mental to keep living on and on. A country of women, that was what it was. Restless, unsafe, and difficult. And women are what this book is about. Powerful, resilient, and survivors.
Having said all of the above, I must also mention that the story wasn’t as real as it might have seemed at the first glance. It was a blend of realism and artistic liberties. Gender biases, cliches, coincidences, Isabelle’s love story, and a lot of other things were put together to churn out a piece that would go on to become a bestseller. In the end, someone who hasn’t lived during the time isn’t expected to do all the justice when writing such books and some forgiveness can be granted, right? At least I can. Do I recommend this book? Hell yes. Do I need to critique it for all the faults that it had? Definitely no.