Friday, May 8, 2015

The Nightingale

The Nightingale
Kristin Hannah
440 pages

"Perhaps that's why I find myself looking backward. The past has a clarity I can no longer see in the present."

In Carriveau, France in 1939, Vianne Mauriac must say goodbye to her husband when he is called to the Front. Soon after he leaves, the Nazis march into the village and she must quarter one in her home. As food supplies and hope dwindles, Vianne tries to stay spirited for her daughter, but when she is forced to make one hard choice after another, her true resilience is put to the test. Vianne's sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl who has been kicked out of boarding school more times than she can count. When the Germans occupy Paris, she joins the Resistance, delivering notes by bicycle until she realizes she was meant for something greater. 

I again apologize for my long absence. Preparing for AP tests has consumed most of my life for the past few weeks. Yesterday and today were the Art History and U.S History exams, and this morning I felt as if my brain would explode - causing Constitutional amendments and brain guts and Monet's complete works to end up all over the floor. 

But here I am, alive and ready to review a book for the first time in awhile.

In The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah tells the story of World War II's women. Often, the battle on the homefront is overlooked in history class or is dominated by only Rosie the Riveter and her enthusiastic "We Can Do It!"  But for Frenchwomen, it was so much more than that.

The novel is told in chapters alternating Vianne and Isabelle's perspectives. Over the course of the story, Vianne dynamically transforms into more than just a housewife and Isabelle evolves from a girl into a woman. Vianne takes a Jewish friend's child into her home, even though Herr Captain Beck's eyes are everywhere she goes. Code-named the "Nightingale" Isabelle leads downed British and American pilots out of France and into Spain by shepherding them over the Pyrenees.

Isabelle's journey across the mountains is inspiring, and Hannah's descriptions of the route, the fatigue, and the landscape are undeniably beautiful. Vianne's struggle to safe stay while a Nazi sleeps in the bedroom next to hers is unimaginable, and Hannah conveys Vianne's fright and determination in engaging dialogue.

The story, lasting the duration of the war and beyond, bounces from one scene to one event and back again with ease and grace. The light shining in Vianne's garden is contrasted with Isabelle's dimly-lit Resistance meetings. Hannah even manages to tackle typically unspeakable subjects -- death, rape, and suffering are handled with care and candor.

This book was definitely the best I had read in awhile. So much so that its accelerated, soaring finale had me reading until midnight, and then lying in bed awake for a time afterwards. Those are my favorite types of novels I think -- the ones that leave you a little spooked, a little raw.

The Nightingale is an inspiring, historical read that captures the voice and story of women during the most trying of times.
"Men tell stories. Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions is history books. We did what we had to do during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over."

Story Line - 10/10
Narrator's Voice - 10/10
Writing Style - 9/10

Overall - 29/30

The Nightingale has been on The New York Times' Bestsellers List for 13 weeks. 

(Note:  Special thanks to my grandma for suggesting this book to me! I love that we share the same taste in books (and Italian food :)) I love sharing that with you!)

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