Book Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Goodreads: The Nightingale
Genre: Historical Fiction, WWII, Romance, Fiction
Panda Rating:

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 France is overrun, Vianne 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.

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 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.

This book absolutely shattered me. I don’t even know how to start writing a review for this beautifully heartbreaking book. I was ugly crying so hard in the last few chapters—like literally full body heaving, and just as my tears abated after one chapter, they’d flow again once I started the next. What have you done to me Kristin Hannah?! I was not expecting to feel this EMOTIONAL. Holy wow, when I finished this last night, my whole body felt so heavy but equally drained of energy! This moving book talks about a side of the war that is seldom seen or talked about: the women, and it was equally moving, fascinating and absolutely spellbinding.

“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.”

The Nightingale is told in alternative perspectives between two sisters, Isabelle Rosignoll and Vianne Mauriac, from the start of the Nazi occupation in France until their liberation by the Allies. There were also a few chapters with an “anonymous” female narrator from the US in 1995, but we don’t find out who that is until the very end. I honestly can’t remember the last time I read a story about such strong female characters. Although they’re as different as can be, with Isabelle being the rebellious, bold and feisty younger sister to Vianne’s quieter, sensible and stable older sister, they both displayed awe inspiring strength and bravery during one of the most horrifying periods in history.

I was right there from the start with Isabelle’s character. I felt for her desire to be loved and accepted. She was wild and headstrong. Although it was reckless, I greatly admired how passionate she was about fighting for her people, resisting the Nazi’s, and how she dove right into the heart of danger by joining the resistance. She went on to save the lives of hundreds of Allied soldiers, and even though I was clutching my throat through every dangerous mission, how I cheered for her character to survive!

In contrast, I initially struggled with Vianne’s character. I thought her meek, almost cowardly and too willing to accept the changes happening around her. I wanted her to be bold like Isabelle, to fight—but in the end, I recognized that Vianne’s was a quiet strength that was just as admirable and courageous as her sister’s. As a mother she did everything she could to protect her children, and to survive the situation in the way she knew how to. She made a lot of mistakes that were sometimes fatal, but of the two, Vianne was the one who clearly grew the most throughout the story.

It’s so hard to believe that none of these characters are real. I grew to love all of them: Isabelle, Vianne, Sophie, Gaëtan, Antoine, Julien, Anouk, Micheline, Henri and so many others… I became so invested in their lives, safety and survival that it almost felt as if I was there and that I knew their fear, losses, strength and triumphs. With every scene, I could picture so clearly the surroundings. Kristin Hannah did wonders in bringing the setting and the characters to life with her simple yet descriptive prose. It’s not necessarily a “fast read” and it definitely wasn’t an easy one due to the subject matter, but I found I simply couldn’t put this book down. And when I was forced to put it aside, all I could think about was coming back to the story, and immersing myself back into the lives of these characters.

I think Hannah did a really fantastic job with this book and I learned so much about a different part of this historical period. Most books covering WWII, the Nazi occupation and the Holocaust focus on Jewish characters, and the horrors of the concentration camps. While there was a small part of that in this book, it was refreshing to learn about how other countries and citizens were also deeply affected, and especially to learn about the crucial role women played in surviving the war. One quote really got me:

”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 in history books. We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over…”

How everything was tied together in the end was bittersweet perfection. It wasn’t rushed, and it answered the questions I had leading up to the “present day”. And like I said, my tears wouldn’t stop gushing. I want to give this book all the freaking panda stars!

I honestly didn’t think anything would top my feels for The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, which has held the top spot on my favorites so far this year, but The Nightingale knocked it out of the ballpark for me. I definitely wasn’t expecting that! This book has received rave reviews and a lot of hype, and it 100% worth all of it. I think it’s safe to say this is now one of my all time favorite historical fiction novels. I can’t wait to read more of what Kristin Hannah has written!

Have you read The Nightingale or is it on your TBR?
Did it live up to the hype for you or were you disappointed?

3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

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