Author: Kristin Hannah
Publisher: St. Martin’s, 2015
A couple members of our book club were a little tired of reading stories centered around World War II. However, so many of my book blogging friends and other reviewers have praised The Nightingale, so I went ahead and recommended it as one if our choices. I’m glad I did. It’s a great story and members were glad we read it.
The Nightingale is a fictional tale of two sisters—Vianne and Isabelle. Vianne is about ten years older, a wife, mother and teacher living in the French countryside. As the story opens, Isabelle has just been kicked out of finishing-school and is back in Paris with Father. (Mother is dead.)
Shortly after Isabelle arrives back in Paris everyone hears that the German army has crossed the border and will soon be inhabiting France. Father sends Isabelle to the country to stay with Vianne. But Isabelle has a harrowing time just getting there. She ends up walking most of the way and German airplanes fire down at the civilians fleeing Paris. By the time Isabelle arrives at Vianne’s, she is determined to do something to fight back against the German invasion.
Vianne has other concerns. Her husband was drafted and sent to the Front prior to the invasion. Now she has total responsibility for their young daughter, keeping the house and garden maintained, and searching for ever decreasing supplies. All that in addition to her teaching responsibilities. The Germans seize control of a nearby airport and soon a German officer arrives and says he will billet at her house. Vianne could abandon the house, but then she would lose everything and have no means of feeding herself and her child. Vianne stays in her home and becomes the housekeeper for the officer.
The two sisters pursue different paths over the next five years. Isabelle returns to Paris shortly after the German officer arrives at Vianne’s house. She joins the Resistance and begins performing a highly dangerous series of missions. For this, she is called the Nightingale, although very few people know her identity. Most people think the Nightingale is a man.
Vianne’s pathway through the war was different. First, it was a problem finding enough food to keep herself and her daughter, and later others, alive. The rations were so skimpy that, without Vianne’s garden, they would have starved. Having a German office in the house didn’t help. As the war progressed, Vianne also worked to keep others alive and not just by providing food. Eventually, the regular German army officers were replaced by the vicious Gestapo. It was very dangerous. Vianne’s mission was just as heroic as Isabelle’s.
This was a well researched and well written novel. The characters were real, the story was well plotted, and it gave us all a lot to think and talk about. It was great to look at war from the viewpoint of women and, especially, in an occupied country. The enemy was all everywhere and, in Vianne’s case, right inside the house! The book club is all female and so we identified very strongly with the two main characters. It made for a very lively discussion about the various events and people in the book. As we summed up the book, most members said it was one of the best books they’d read in a long time. I can’t give you a better recommendation than that.