Viann and Isabelle have always been close despite their differences. Younger, bolder sister Isabelle lives in Paris while Viann lives a quiet and content life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. When World War II strikes and Antoine is sent off to fight, Viann and Isabelle's father sends Isabelle to help her older sister cope. As the war progresses, it's not only the sisters' relationship that is tested, but also their strength and their individual senses of right and wrong. With life as they know it changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Viann and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions. Vivid and exquiste in its illumination of a time and place that was filled with great monstrosities, but also great humanity and strength, Kristin Hannah's novel will provoke thought and discussion that will have readers talking long after they turn the last page.
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I kept hoping we'd get more complex characterization of both main characters as the novel continued, but they remained throughout sketches of "types" of people at this time -- the brave and brazen resistance fighter versus the make-do homebody protecting her child. And the melodrama! I hoped that would improve, too, but things just get cornier and cornier. Really there are parts where I rolled my eyes at the melodrama, especially the scene where Isabelle and Gaet reunite.
Really it's too bad, because you shouldn't need to invent melodrama to invoke an emotional response given this is a book about WWII.
Not a terrible read, but so over-hyped and disappointing for critical readers.
Antoine is soon sent to the front, and the Germans spread across France, eventually occupying Vianne’s village. Vianne is forced to billet a young soldier, Captain Beck. She recognizes that compliance with Nazi orders is essential to survival, but Isabelle is unable to accept this. She becomes involved in the resistance and eventually leaves to join the movement. She plays an important role in transporting downed Allied pilots out of France, under the code-name Nightingale. Meanwhile, Vianne experiences the Nazis first-hand, including food shortages, brutality, and the deportation of Jewish citizens. The sisters’ paths diverge and converge at points throughout the war.
The Nightingale opens in 1995. An old woman living on the Oregon coast is examining items stowed away in a trunk many years ago. Her son comes to check on her … and then the reader goes back in time, becoming immersed in Vianne and Isabelle’s story. Every so often the narrative returns to 1995 and drops a few more clues about the old woman’s identity. It’s an interesting device that enriches the Vianne/Isabelle narrative.
This combination of plot, character, and narrative technique would typically inspire a 4-star rating or higher. Instead, they kept me from assigning a 3-star rating (which is still acceptable, but not great). There were several flaws in the writing which, once spotted, could not be ignored. The prose was sometimes flowery and melodramatic, and repetitive in places: doors and gates always closed “with a click,” and Julien was never far away from a “half-empty brandy bottle.” Captain Beck, a “kind Nazi,” was not completely believable not because he was kind, but because he always turned up at the most convenient moments, producing exactly what was needed (food, medicine, etc.) to rescue Vianne from a bad situation. An inevitable and somewhat predictable rape scene failed to convey the traumatic impact on the victim. And finally, the war’s end, the liberation of concentration camps and prisoners of war, and the present-day denouement all felt rushed and overly tidy. And yet, despite these flaws, this book was an emotional page-turner that I would recommend to others.
So many others have given a story synopsis, so i will simply say that women played much larger roles in WW2 than ever known. Ever realized. Ever given credit for.
One line touched
I'd love to think i have the character of a Vianne or an Isabelle, I'd hope so. But none of us truly know what we are capable of till push comes to shove and instant decisions have to be made.
A book i will actually treasure forever.
Set on the eve of the Nazi occupation of France, The Nightingale details the war experiences of two sisters who have long been torn apart by their childhood losses and two very different, clashing personalities. The older sister is married and a mother and, after a childhood of loss and suffering, just wants to survive until her husband returns. The younger sister, forced at a young age to fend for herself, wants to make a difference in the war efforts and actively seeks out opportunities to contribute to the Resistance. Individually, the sisters experience hardships and unfathomable decisions upon which hinge life or death.
The thing about Vianne and Isabelle is that neither one is an enjoyable character at first. Vianne is meek, complacent, anxious and more than a bit selfish when it comes to protecting her own. While readers can understand all of her decisions, readers might not like them and may even consider her fairly despicable for the choices she does make. Isabelle is Vianne’s exact opposite – bold and reckless where Vianne is scared and timid. However, Isabelle is too rash and quick to act. Her impetuosity is tiresome, and her strong emotional reactions to everything can be overwhelming.
A funny thing happens, however, as the story continues to unfold. These two women, both of whom were so easy to dislike, become very real in the reader’s mind. Suddenly, the decisions Vianne must make are more bothersome not because she cannot make a decision but because she must choose between two impossible situations. Similarly, Isabelle becomes a mature and selfless young woman who carefully analyzes every thought and action beforehand but who still has the ability to seize the moment when it most counts. Readers will soon find themselves not only wondering how they would react if put in Isabelle’s situation or confronted with Vianne’s terrible alternatives but also assessing whether they would have the mettle necessary to survive. Together, these two sisters show the danger, the trauma, the fear, the heartache, and the brute determination of millions of women who kept their families intact and alive during the Occupation.
Like any good historical novel, The Nightingale details some little-known elements of World War II. The Nazi occupation of French towns and villages gets particular attention, as does the Resistance and its increasing success in battling the Nazis from inside their own occupied territory. While much of the story does occur within Vianne’s small village, which becomes a microcosm for all of France, Isabelle’s story takes readers across Europe as she strives to save as many soldiers as she can. The situations each woman experiences are harrowing in the extreme, while the emotional trauma of them drive home the constant terror and guilt-ridden compromises almost everyone in occupied Europe faced during the war.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is a spectacular piece of historical fiction. Not only does she explore an often-ignored aspect of World War II, she does so by using characters that are deeply flawed but for whom readers soon become highly empathetic. Her careful attention to detail along with a gorgeous turn of phrase creates a gut-wrenching story that haunts readers long after the last sentence. In other words, this is exactly what a historical novel should do.
In this historical novel set during the Nazi occupation of France, we follow the lives of two very different sisters.
Sisters Vianne and Isabel
After France falls to the Nazis, Vianne copes in her occupied village taking care of her daughter and her house. Her husband fights in the French army and later, is in a camp for captured soldiers. But as the war goes on and the Nazi grip tightens, Vianne is shaken into action. Her best friend Rachel is taken to a concentration camp and Vianne makes the daring decision to hide Rachel's son in her house. This leads Vianne to more and more active resistance under the very noses of the Nazis billeted in her home, which is no longer a safe harbor but a place of torture for her.
The other sister Isabel first makes her way to her sister's home after the occupation, but she soon heads to Paris where she takes a more active role as a member of the French resistance and performs what seems to be a more heroic role than her sister.
Two very different women, two very different roles in the French fight against the Nazis.
I read this with my book club. One of the more interesting group discussion questions involved how Jewish readers would see the struggles of these women. These sisters endured hardship and death during the Nazi occupation – and yet it was nothing compared to what the Jewish population suffered. How does one compare devastation?
But for me, it is always about the writing.
What makes this book so special is its approach to the time. Although it is about World War II, it is not about the nitty gritty of the war itself, but rather it is about the French Underground and their effort to defeat the Germans, even as the French Government surrendered to Germany and succumbed to the Nazi way of life. Its emphasis is on the women of that war who fought alongside the men, not in the trenches but in the resistance, the women who endangered their own safety and lives to save others and fight back against Hitler’s Third Reich. They all faced imminent danger bravely and were often unsung heroes.
Many French men and women went along with Germany’s occupation happily, some simply to keep the effects of the war from their own doors, a notion of which they were quickly disabused. It was a kind of fool’s errand; “when you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas!” Those that cooperated with the Germans to protect themselves and even those that collaborated, soon faced brick walls. There would be no further opportunities or assistance offered to them for their safety. Their options would run out as soon as there were no other victims to be had, but themselves. Hitler’s net of hate and savagery was broad with tentacles that extended into every avenue of life. Those that defied Hitler did so by risking their own lives to prevent the loss of others. They were brave and selfless, and they believed that Hitler’s war was reprehensible. They would not learn how reprehensible for years.
The novel is centered on the relationship and points of view of Vianne and Isabelle, two sisters separated in age by about a decade. Isabelle was the younger of the two. When their mother died, their father fell apart and abandoned them both, leaving them with a cold, stern woman to bring them up. He was never the same toward them, growing evermore distant and aloof and drinking to excess. First, it was his experience in the Great War, WWI, and then it was the death of his wife that broke him and altered him beyond repair.
Hannah weaves a story about the women left behind with all of the responsibility of the home, the family, the food, the bills, and worst of all, dealing with the enemy soldiers who were, at first, polite, but later criminally abusive. When the Wehrmacht’s influence waned (the kinder and gentler of the German military organizations, if indeed any term like that can even be used to refer to anything Hitler designed), and the Gestapo became more powerful, with its sadistic SS soldiers, drunk on unimpeded power and violence, the women of Carriaveau were at their mercy; they were all required to do what they had to in order to survive and keep their families protected. There simply was no one else to call upon to help them, except, in some cases, for their church, and often, that was not a guarantee of safety or aid, when it came to Germany’s inhumanity to man. First fear immobilized everyone, but as time passed and the situation grew more heinous, they realized they could not simply stand by any longer. Vianne, who had ridiculed her younger sister’s efforts, finally took a stand against the heartless treatment of men women and children for nothing more than their political and religious beliefs, their mental health condition, or their sexual predilections, by saving the lives of orphaned children. She enlisted the help of her Church. It was very dangerous for her because she was forced to billet a cruel, malicious officer of the Third Reich who often abused her. She finally put herself at risk, even with him in her home. She also endangered her own daughter, Sophie, and her best friend’s son, Ari (Daniel), whom she cared for and protected, as well. When his mother was sent to a camp for being a Jew, she promised Rachel she would look after him. She pretended she had adopted him from her husband’s cousin whose wife had died in childbirth.
This novel is a masterpiece because it is a straightforward tale of courage and love, sacrifice and devotion. It is told from the point of view of the women left behind, the women who had to survive and fight back without the tools to do it effectively, but who rose to the challenge. So, it is not your typical World War II story or your typical story about the Holocaust’s immorality and the nature of its evil. The savagery of the Germans is told through the eyes of these women generally considered the weaker sex. They wanted to be relevant but the risk to them was even greater than to the men. The hardships they bore, and the suffering they endured will cause the readers’ eyes to fill. It was almost impossible to resist and yet almost impossible not to hate and want to resist. The author clearly showed the conflicts the soldiers dealt with and the conflicts of the French citizens. To survive, they had to look away, help the Germans, in fact, or be killed themselves.
Except for the despicable group of Germans who were nothing more than brutes and sadists, no one character was completely all bad or all good. Even the German soldiers, some anyway, and some citizens too, showed mercy to the extent they were able. Most, however, simply obeyed orders, even the French, especially the French policemen. They all thought they would be spared if they obliged the Germans, but it was like a creeping fungus, it kept sucking up more and more of the community and the people and disobedience led to monstrous retribution so the situation was fiendish.
All of the key elements of the war were touched upon, but it never felt overdone; rather, the clear cut and informative presentation provided only what was pertinent to the narrative. It never seemed exaggerated or cloying. I knew that there was a model Concentration Camp in Terezin, and that there were several death camps and crematoria, but I learned that there was also a camp designated just for women, in Ravensbruck. Kristin Hannah did a masterful job of research and showed not only the plight of the women during the war, but she showed their courage and competence in the face of all obstacles. She was inspired by the true story of a woman named Andree De Jongh who performed heroically during the war. So much of survival depended on choice, timing, kindness, and the sacrifice of others, and the message in the book is loud and clear that women did their share and then some. The story is very deliberately narrated by the audio reader, Polly Stone, who never over emoted or made the reading about herself. She simply presented the story in a pitch perfect way.
After Isabel and Vianne's mother died, their father sent them to live with a friend. It took them a long time to get over this double
This book chronicles the situations, fears, and daily life of people in occupied France. As always when I read a book from this time period, I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach which was a poor mirror of what the characters felt.
This was a great addition to many books that took place in this time and place.
The story begins with a wise woman being forced to leave the majority of her belongings and her home of fifty years and move to a smaller retirement community to live out the remaining days of her life. During this
As we enter the next chapters, we are introduced to World War II, when France was occupied by Germany under the dictatorship of Herr Hitler. Vianne's husband has been called to serve. Her sister, Isabelle, has been dismissed from yet another school. Their father, Julian present, but not throughout their lives...damaged from the Great War and the loss of his wife. Their relationships strained and damaged by the past and now to endure a new war filled with horrors beyond the imagination.
This book is hard to put down. Realizing that it is a work of fiction does not limit the horrors of the reality of the reign of Adolf Hitler. This book evokes so many emotions and questions...
This was a powerful book, and one that I will be thinking about for some time. Her description of life in Nazi-controlled France was mesmerizing --- the everyday deprivations, the crushing fear, the presence
it five stars is due to my taking issue with the glaring historical
errors shown at bottom of this review.
Vianne and Isabelle are sisters ten years apart. Their father came
back from the first world war a broken man. Then his wife
and he could not handle taking care of his two daughters so
dumped them on a relative at his wife's broken down,large family
home near a small French town.
Vivane married young and has one living child. Very happily married
living a very contented domestic life.
Isabelle is kicked out of one more boarding school at age 18.
When the Germans take over France in June 1940 each woman take
paths into a live they never could have imagined.
Isabelle goes from secretly placing subversive leaflets all over to
taking downed fliers to safety on harrowing routes.
Vivane is left alone as her husband is prisoner of war. She endures
much during the occupation. this part of the story was the most honest
and effective as it showed how the Nazis take over and their policies
were unveiled slowly over the course of 2 years. I do give credit to the
author for this very true part of the French history during the occupation.
Each sister goes through the horrors of the war in very different ways.
A very satisfying ending to an epic,engrossing tale about one part of
the second world war.
Glaring historical errors:
1. I don't think they were using the term "antibiotics" in
France in 1941. In fact the term was not coined until 1942/1943
by scientists. No way would this have been known in occupied France
2.Yes,even though they deny this the people in Germany
and other countries knew something bad was going on
with all the empty returned cattle cars. However, there was
no way an average officer in a small town in France would
know of the term"final Solution" in 1944 or what that even meant.
Even if he did he would have been sworn to the death to ever
discuss it and with an enemy civilian??? No way.
3. No allied troops came upon any concentration camps until
late April 1945 or early May. Yes,the Soviets freed some in
January 1945 but it took Anne Frank's father about 6 months
on a very round about route to finally make it home to Holland
Come on! You are the best selling author of numerous books!
DO YOUR RESEARCH PEOPLE!
No one warned me to keep a box of tissues at the ready as I devoured this book; but weep, I did. Very few stories
I was immediately captivated by the author's superb command of language. The exquisite prose draws the reader in where one could experience the story with all five senses. Hannah's meticulous attention to the historic record and its many details was spot on while she still evoked a beautifully written fictional account of the sisters' lives. This is a book that lingered a while with me. It begged the question, "What would you do if put into a similar situation?" I honestly do not know how I would react when faced with such painful and challengin choices. Would I have the courage to choose; to go on; to protect others? Who can say?
Synopsis (from publisher's website):
France, 1939 - In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne 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 a German captain requisitions Vianne's home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.
Vianne'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 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. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.
With courage, grace, and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of World War II and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women's war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France—a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.
I read this as a buddy read with my Goodreads friend Diane D. We didn’t expect to be able to at all stay in sync this time, but we did very well, at least as well as we usually do, starting and finishing on the same day, and never getting that far apart from each other, chatting as we
I’m so glad that I read this book.
The writing is lovely.
I enjoyed guessing who the 1990s woman was, but at some point I just wanted to know. Overall, most of the time, I guessed correctly, except for one small detail the reader isn’t given until late in the book, and one other detail I somehow missed that wouldn’t have helped me figure it out anyway, but as I read I vacillated with my guessing.
It felt like a big, sweeping, epic of a story. There were so many instances of heartbreak, and of suspense. I was going to single out a character or two, but there were so many characters I grew to care about deeply, to like, some to hate. I appreciated that most of the main characters were very multi-dimensional, and well drawn, and changed over time, and were therefore completely believable. There were so many quotes that hit home.
War is bad, very, very bad, and WWII in places and situations under Nazi occupation were described with sharp intensity. I felt as though I was there throughout most of the situations.
The author thanked the author of Sarah’s Key for helping her with accuracy of depicting France during WWII, and she seemed to do her research.
I love what my friend Chrissie said in her review “Such events did happen, but all in one family? It was like a checklist had to be followed.” I still laugh every time I think of what she wrote. Chrissie didn’t like the book, and she compellingly expresses herself, saying many wise things. Yet, I still disagree. I got caught up in the characters and events, and I think the story is believable. (I’m thinking of one thing toward the very end that might have been a bit too convenient, but I do believe that truth is often stranger than fiction (to paraphrase the famous saying) and for me nothing described was too unbelievable.
I do have a problem with one choice a major character makes at the end, and I wish she (and the author?) had decided differently.
I think these people and their stories will stick with me for a long time. I grew to love the two sisters, the characters at the heart of the novel, but many other characters are just as memorable. I want to say so much about them, but I’d have to use too many spoiler tags.
Overall, this was a very satisfying book, one I found hard to put down, and I know I found it even more enjoyable because I was reading it with a friend.
ETA: I did get very emotionally invested. Did I not mention that?!
If you enjoyed All the Light We cannot See you will definitely want to read this one. This is definitely Kristin's best in a long line of good novels.
The author writes of a Pyrenees crossing, “almost one thousand meters high,” as though that were high. At a little over 3000 feet, that is barely a hill. A “steel wheel the size of an automobile” was a stone wheel five sentences later. Discrepancies like that pull me out of the story and decrease my enjoyment of the story. The also make me question the veracity of what is written.
The story got more interesting towards the end, and quite sentimental. It was more interesting that the beginning though.
Perhaps if this had been the first novel I'd read about the period, maybe I would have enjoyed it more, but it just seemed rather ho-hum to me.
Two sisters are crippled emotionally by a father, who after surviving WWI, comes home a different man. When his wife dies, he abandons the girls and leaves them virtually on their own. The older sister,
Along comes the war and life changes for everyone. Both sisters in the five years of war will deal with life and the horrors of war around them. Each will make decisions for better or worse.
Emotionally charged, hard to read at times but even harder put down, this book reminds me of Sarah's Key and the more recent All the Light We Cannot See.