The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Genre: Historical fiction
I have read countless WWII novels, but few have haunted me for so many months after I finished it than The Nightingale. This is a tale of the strength of women in wartime, highlighting the ways bravery can take on many different faces.
Vianne and Isabelle Mauriac are as different as sisters can be. Abandoned by their father, Vianne has settled into married life and her role as responsible older sister, while Isabelle longs to get out from under her sister’s stifling thumb. When Germans occupy their idyllic country village in 1940, both women are forced to stand up for what they value most and in doing so, must see past the misunderstandings that have hung between them for so long.
Hannah is a master of character and narrative. I could feel Vianne’s pain and fear, empathize with Isabelle’s longing and frustration, and it was incredible to watch how both women grew into their own strength with such subtlety. The horrors endured by civilians–particularly women–of Nazi occupied France are often forgotten, and I enjoyed this view into ordinary lives utterly changed.
What I loved the most about this book, however, was the value it placed on women in all roles. Vianne, as a wife and mother who longs for stability, stands in stark contrast to Isabelle and her longing for romance, adventure, and action. But both women are celebrated–as a mother who held down the home front and saved countless children’s lives, and a resistance fighter who led countless British pilots to safety. Bravery can take on so many forms, and it isn’t just in heroic, swashbuckling action. Bravery is often found in the most subtle ways–women who did everything they could to save their children from the horrors of war, often taking harrowing secrets with them to the grave.
Hannah writes in a way that is extremely moving, but also surprising in the best way possible. I cannot stress how highly I recommend this book and its tale of humanity amidst the inhumanity of war.