Today’s post is a review of a novel that I finished earlier this month, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. In the spring, I kept seeing this book on the front shelves of the bookstores every time I went in. Reading the summary at the back of the book, it reminded me of All the Light We Cannot See , a book I finished last September that has become one of my top 3 favourite books that I’ve read in the last two years.
The Nightingale is a historical fiction, and follows the lives of two sisters named Vianne and Isabelle living in France during World War II. The sisters are women with completely different personalities, and have never been close due to events from their childhood. Vianne is a schoolteacher who lives in a town called Carriveau in the French countryside, with her husband and young daughter. Now, Vianne’s husband has been sent off to fight in the war, leaving her with their daughter in Carriveau, which is slowly becoming occupied by German soldiers. Isabelle is a bold and defiant young woman, constantly being expelled from the convents and schools. After getting expelled by yet another school, their dismissive father sends her off from Paris to live with Vianne, where Isabelle tries to play a part in helping France in the war. The book focuses on the gut-wrenching situations the sisters face during the war, both together and apart, and how all of these situations test their relationship with one another and with each woman’s own strength.
This book switches between the point-of-views of Vianne and Isabelle. I would say that essentially, the book tries to give the reader a portrayal of what everyday life was like for the women that were left behind during war. The book mentioned the constant lack of food or supplies; women seeing their Jewish neighbours and friends being separated from their family, killed or sent off to concentration camps; the worry of not knowing if their men were coming home from war as a result of death or imprisonment, and the fear of saying the wrong thing in a Nazi-occupied town. Vianne and Isabelle both experience different hardships of their own during the war – despite great danger to her own life, Isabelle joins the French Resistance right under the nose of the German soldier that is assigned to stay in their home. She plays such a big role in the resistance that she becomes known as the Nightingale. On the other hand, Vianne is forced to keep quiet and obey the stringent rules in Carriveau in order to keep her family safe, even though she wants to retaliate just as much as Isabelle.
As is the case with most books about war, this was a very sad and moving story. Vianne and Isabelle experience a lot of loss throughout the book. Although it is only a fictional story, the thought of war is so terrifying and real – people actually did go through these horrors and hardships during WWII, and any war-torn country today is probably still going through this. There were a lot of moments where I held my breath, hoping everything was going to be okay.
Kristin Hannah is an author that usually writes books in the “chick lit” genre. While I haven’t read any of her other books, I found it interesting that she decided to write a historical fiction that wasn’t centered around a love story. However, there is definitely still a strong undertone of “chick lit” in this book. While I don’t necessarily see that as a good or bad thing as it really just depends on your literary tastes, I would still say that I personally prefer All the Light We Cannot See, which I honestly thought was just a magical book.