I found The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah listed as one of the best books of 2015 in the historical fiction category.
History interests me immensely, even though I did not get much chance to read any since I completed secondary school. So, when I realized this book was about the Nazi occupation of France, my interest doubled.
The Nightingale is the tale of two sisters whose father returned from war a changed man and was never the same man again. Their mother died and soon after, their father gave up on them. The elder, more subdued Vianne, marries off early while the rebel, beautiful Isabelle is thrown out of school after school because she doesn’t quite fit in with the established norms. There are conflicts among the sisters as well.
Then the second world war comes. With it come German soldiers who occupy France. French men go to fight in the war. Vianne’s husband, Antoine, leaves as well. Scared Vianne is left to come with the aftermath of the war with her young daughter Sophie. Kristin also deals with the difficult topic of Jews being tortured and deported through Rachel, Vianne’s best friend, who is a Jew.
The first half of the story seemed a little slow for me. In many places, it felt as if the story had been written keeping in mind the rules told in creative writing classes: engage all the senses, which is nothing wrong, but seems a little forced at times. The story-telling gets stronger towards the end of the book, as the plot thickens. I have never read about a book on war before, so it felt like a first-hand experience as I turned over the pages and saw the cruelty that had been meted out to French people by the Nazis. The last fifty page or so moved me to tears more than once.
“In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.”
- -The Nightingale
I enjoyed the way the characters are built in the book, the headstrong Isabelle who does before she thinks, the scared Vianne who does not want her husband to go to war – their transformations are what makes this book beautiful. I like that Kristin gave each character his/her flaws. Every character in this book is real, well-fleshed out. You can see the cruelty of the German captain billeted at Vianne’s house after Captain Beck’s murder. You can see the tense sparks of what-can-never-be-named-as-love between Captain Beck and Vianne, who are both separated from their loved ones in those trying times: Beck from his family, but bound by his duty, and the helpless Vianne left alone to protect her daughter Sophie while the world around them crumble.
If you enjoy reading historical fiction, you must give this book a try. Food is also a recurrent theme in this book, so if you are a foodie or someone who enjoys cooking, you’ll love the smells and colours of the foods described in the book! It’s so real that you can almost see the potatoes frying brown in front of your eyes!