by Kristin Hannah
After their mother’s death and the subsequent abandonment by their father, sisters Vianne Mauriac and Isabelle Rossignol develop two vastly different outlooks: Vianne chooses the safe route, staying quietly at home with her husband and daughter, while Isabelle dives headfirst into every situation without giving thought to possible outcomes. When the Nazis invade and occupy France at the beginning of World War II, Isabelle involves herself in the French resistance; Vianne does her best to continue her life as if nothing has changed. As the war stretches on, each woman ends up fighting against the Nazis in her own way. Isabelle begins secreting shot-down Allied airmen out of France and becomes known as “the Nightingale.” Vianne chooses to save Jewish children instead of remaining neutral and safe. The war changes each woman and, as the first line states, helps them find out who they are.
- The point of view of the occupied French people is one I have not read before. I appreciate the differing viewpoint; I have taught the more “typical” Elie Wiesel and Anne Frank stories many times but never the French/occupied territory point of view; even the American stories are more prominent. On the other hand, The Nightingale reminded me of a more adult version of Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars (which I have always loved).
- The lives of Vianne and Isabelle, which intersect and diverge throughout the war, along with the more present-day narrative of the old, reminiscing woman work together to make a compelling story. The old woman’s voice demonstrates the effects of the war even 50 years later, and it also creates a bit of mystery because the reader doesn’t know her identity until the very end of the story. Hannah does an incredible job of telling only pieces of that story–the ending truly surprised me (and I’ll admit, it made me cry–again!).
- Honestly, I think that any historical fiction work set against the backdrop of World War II has the potential to be great. There is so much drama lurking in the shadows and so many lost stories that could be told. I was a bit worried that this story was going to be predictable and therefore boring, but thankfully I was wrong! Hannah’s foreshadowing is skillful in that the hints are simply hints and do not give away the rest of the story.
What Doesn’t Work:
- So. Much. Figurative. Language. Goodness–especially in the first few chapters, every single detail is described using metaphor or simile, and sometimes both. It seems a little over the top. I noticed this later in the novel as well, but by then I was so wrapped up in the story that it didn’t bother me.
- After reading the first couple of chapters (and specifically the first few pages), I literally rolled my eyes a few times at the “cliché-ness” of the storyline. But, while Hannah starts with nothing special, she more than makes up for it at the end.
If you’re looking for a good book, this definitely fits the bill. I give it 4/5 stars mostly because while it’s a great story, I don’t think it’s so good that it will stick with me for long. However, like I said, it gives a unique view of World War II, specifically focusing on the women’s war and the important role that women played in home front resistance. If you fancy yourself a history buff, then you would enjoy this one. This would also be a good choice for a summer reading list for incoming American literature and/or American history students as it would provide many discussion points and a contrast for America-centric World War II stories (Unbroken, et al). Overall, if a book can make me cry, then it’s going on my favorites list.
Thanks to my G’ma for the recommendation!
Mrs. Ethridge’s Report Card:
- My Rating: A
- sympathetic characters, wartime storyline almost always makes for a good read
- unique point of view
- surprise ending!
- Clean Factor: B
- a few instances of strong language, but seeing as how it’s a book about a war, I think you have to expect that
- some sex (nothing explicit); rape scene
- Book Clubbishness: B
- lots of talking points (women’s war, French occupation, resistance)
- engaging storyline, so everyone will read it!
- Educational Potential: B
- a nice contrast to other World War II literature that is always in curriculum
- suggestions: summer reading list, book report
Amazon link/photo credit: http://www.amazon.com/The-Nightingale-Kristin-Hannah/dp/0312577222