Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Date: February 3rd 2015
Genre: General Fiction
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
In the quiet village of Carriveau, Viann Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Viann is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.
Viann’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real–and deadly–consequences.
In The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah has written a powerful book mostly about women who worked behind the scenes of war in France and made a difference. It is fitting that this book is published on the 70th memorial of the liberation from Auschwitz
“If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are”. Two women certainly find out who they are as this story progresses through the invasion of France by the Germans. One stays at home, one travels the country as part of a very daring and courageous Resistance team. Both face tremendous hardship.
Isabelle and Viann have a remote relationship with their father, damaged by his participation in the First World War. Viann has married and has a daughter Sophie. Isabelle who is outspoken and impulsive is sent from one school to another as she upsets the established regime. When war breaks out Viann sees her husband Antoine go off to war and Isabelle has decided she is finished with school and wants to help out – and to make a difference. Both sisters clash at times, yet at the root is deep love.
At the opening of the book we meet an unnamed woman, is she Isabelle or Viann? That question is not answered to the very end. She is old and gathering things up as she is taken to a care facility by her son – a doctor. As she goes she picks up a little identify card that says Juliette Gervaise. She also has a special invitation to Paris for a celebration of the partisans of the Resistance. As those questions are answered at the end, it is a very moving ending. I sobbed through this part of book with the heartache of loss of these people and the courage shown by so many of them. Some from that time are alive, some have died.
The portrayal of both the experience at home of Viann and of Isabelle and their father as they experience the invasion of their country is well written. As a reader I was caught up into their lives. So much of it was horrific, yet what amazes me is that from all this the people who were so brutally treated speak of love. One character says “But love has to be stronger than hate, or there is no future for us”. As I listen to survivors of the Holocaust in recent days I hear them say similar words.
This book is a beautiful tribute to those brave, amazing people, women especially, who contributed to the gaining of freedom for their country and people during World War 11 in France. It is not easy reading, yet it is important reading. Kristin Hannah – thank you.