My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“…in love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.” page 1
So begins the glorious book that is The Nightingale.
This story is about two sisters, Isabel and Vianne Rossignol, who lost their mother to illness and whose father came back from the First World War a damaged man. Sent away to live with a stranger, the sisters drift apart and become separated when Vianne falls in love and marries young, leaving Isabel in one place after another until she is finally expelled from a finishing school. When the Second World War begins, Isabel’s father sends her to live with her sister in Carriveau, very much against her will. This further highlights Isabel’s sense of abandonment.
This novel looks at the actions of Isabel as she becomes active in the Resistance and saves the lives of downed airmen, getting them to safety in Spain, known by the Germans as The Nightingale, and it looks Vianne, whose first actions are to keep her only child safe and alive through the German Occupation and the lengths that even she eventually goes to to save the innocent lives of Jewish children.
This book is beautifully paced, tells an enthralling story and is strikingly written. The story is evocative and really explores the harshness that people lived through during WW2. Both sisters stories are compelling as they tell the war story from a woman’s point of view, so often ignored by history. It dares to look at the importance of women within the Resistance and the atrocities enacted upon the women left behind when the men went off to war. The characters are wonderfully drawn. You related to each sister and the decisions they make. Kristin Hannah has been able to make such different characters likeable.
There are some clichés in this book. There is the kind hearted Nazi and there is the truly evil one. Carriveau is described as a village, but it reads more like a large country town to be the centre of so much German activity. And of course, there is the reality of each sister wanting to protect the other by hiding their ‘illegal’ activities.
Often compared to All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, I found The Nightingale to be far superior. In a word magnificent.