Recommend: A book that will make you weep in grief, scream in anger, and question every single belief you have. Be prepared to stay up all night reading.
This is the second historical fiction novel I have read upon the Occupation; the first being The Diary of Anne Frank of course. About 20 different people had recommended Kristin Hannah’s gut-wrenching book, The Nightingale, to me in 2018 and to be honest I was really skeptical in the beginning thinking how the novel will ever live to such high expectations – boy was I proved wrong.
The Nightingale deserves every single ounce of the praise it has received and more. Kristin Hannah has superbly managed to weave a heart-breaking and suspenseful storyline in the backdrop of the devastating history of 1945. She had me so immersed in the plot and so involved with the characters that I was in tears by the last page and just about ready to meet these characters in real life. The book has left me yearning to meet the survivor’s of Hitler’s tyrannical reign over the world and listen to their stories and share their grief first hand.
|Members of the Maquis: the guerilla squads during the French Resistance|
The novel alternately skips between 1995 (present day in the novel) and the years during and before the occupation (starting from 1940). Our narrator is an old, sick woman diagnosed with cancer and collecting her things to leave her home. In the first few pages I realized that she isn’t just a frail, sick woman like her adult son perceives, but is in fact someone with a very rich past – and from there begins the story of The Nightingale, of Vianne and Isabelle Rossignol as their ordinary lives twist due to the events of a France under Nazi rule.
|Andree de Jongh, the war heroine who was Kristin Hannah's inspiration for the character of Isabelle|
The Nightingale will make you fall in love with the beauty of a small French village called Carriveau. It will make you question your very beliefs time and time again, and show a side of the war which was never presented as vividly in history as it should have been: the women’s war. While their husband’s, sons, and brothers went off to fight in the front lines, these women had to sacrifice their very souls to keep their young children alive. They were haunted every second by starvation, plagued by hate for themselves and their decisions, and constantly wracked by terrible grief at the loss of Jewish friends to the Nazi’s.
|Gorgeous villages of France|
This novel is a pure paradox to me, with my revulsion for the Nazi’s on one side and the bile that rises up as I read the descriptions the author has written of the Jews’ torment. On the other hand, I can’t help feeling the slightest bit of sympathy for a fraction of the German soldiers. Kristin Hannah made me realize that although many of them were the most disgusting species of men to have walked the Earth, there were also soldiers who had joined the German army to serve their country for good. They didn’t sign up to serve under Adolf Hitler’s sadistic rule.
In the backdrop of a terrifying war, Kristin Hannah has managed to seamlessly weave love and loss in to The Nightingale's pages. History lover or not, I recommend this book as an essential read for every single person out there reading this post. We, the generations born ages after the greatest genocide in history ended, need to know what our ancestors went through to survive.