A historical fiction, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is set in France during the Nazi occupation of World War II. I picked up this book on a whim due to its historical setting. It is a book about the survival of two sisters Vianne and Isabelle during the war times. It’s one of the first books I have read which is about women in war times.
The Nightingale has two main protagonists Vianne, the older sister, and Isabelle the younger one. They had a troubled childhood after their mother’s death when their father sends them away. Isabelle’s personality and her personality have been shaped by the rejection she felt as a child which is constantly implied through her thinking. Vianne finds love at 14 and marries Antoine; she knows she neglected Isabelle for her own happiness and feels guilty about it.
The characters are the winning grace of the story for me. Vianne and Isabelle are very different people but yet they are similar in more ways than they know. Both have a completely different approaches to situations; Isabelle is impulsive and emotional while Vianne is more cautious about her decisions.
Isabelle meets Gaetan very early in the story and their meeting changes the course of Isabelle’s decision is joining the French resistance. The relationships between Isabelle and Gaetan and Vianne and Isabelle play an important part in the story but the book is so much more than a love story. Isabelle is codenamed ‘the Nightingale’ as she helps Allied pilots to get to safety from France. The story starts in the year 1995 and then it is told through the memories of an elderly woman.
The literary device of frame story works really well for the book; as the first-person narration alternates between Vianne and Isabelle. Life starts getting more difficult for the sisters as Vianne loses her best friend, and her job and she lives in a state of fear. The relationship between Vianne and Sophie, her daughter also changes as the story progresses. The loss of innocence is shown through Sophie’s character as she learns things far beyond her young age.
It became very difficult for me to read the book as it got closer to the end. It is heartbreaking and scary and sad and brave all at the same time. The ending of the book really threw me off; the author has never revealed who the elderly woman is but it was an expectation subversion for me. Isabelle is so brave and bold throughout the novel sometimes too quick to react but she is aware of the dangers she is inviting with her work. The relationship dynamics shift throughout the book. Vianne and Isabelle’s father find a way to make up for his past neglect so do Vianne and Isabelle through all her tough exterior cares so much about her family. The ending of the story brought me to tears and I actually kept thinking about the book long after I finished reading it.
The Nightingale is an amazing book. The characters are so relatable and unique, that you can’t help but root for them. The book is about the role women played during World War II but it is also about survival, family, relationships, and love. It is a must-read.
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