Tuesday, June 2, 2015

"The Nightingale": A Beautiful WWII Historical Fiction of Sisters, Hope, Loss, and Love

War sucks.
I continually came back to that statement in my head as I read Kristin Hannah's bestselling "The Nightingale."

After reading I'll Be Seeing You, The Girl You Left Behind, and All the Light We Cannot See  in the span of a few months, I wasn't aching to read another WWII saga about what happens to those that aren't on the front battle lines but waging the wars at home. I'm so glad that I did, though.  Kristin Hannah's "The Nightingale" is a gorgeous book that captivates from the first chapter and doesn't disappoint in the trials, hardships, sacrifices, enduring love, and the evils of WWII. I laughed. I cried. I threw the book several times.  I raced to the end, and I ached along with the sisters in this moving, epic tale.

What I've been loving about reading my latest round of WWII books is that most of them have centered on the role of women in the war.  Yes, men were fighting each other on the battlefields with gruesome results.  We've seen the war movies like "Saving Private Ryan" and we've been privy to the unspeakable horrors of concentration camps. We were inspired by "Unbroken" and what happened in the prison camps, but we rarely see the heroics of women who were left behind when the men went out to fight. "The Nightingale" centers on the lives of two sisters who live in France during the time of German occupation.  Vianne Mauriac lives in the quiet village of Carriveau, but after her husband leaves to fight in the war, a German captain billets at her home.  She and her daughter, Sophie, tread the dangerous tightrope of surrender and fight, secrecy and transparency, and ultimately learn how to live with scarcity, fear, and violence.

Isabelle, Vianne's younger and fiercely independent sister, yearns for love and adventure.  She finds her calling during the war by distributing war leaflets illegally, and delves deeper into the resistance movement after she discovers a downed pilot who needs her help to survive.

Hannah's book provides moments that made me squirm.  At one point after I growled and threw the book, my husband asked, "Are you alright?" with a concerned look on his face.  I didn't feel alright.  Actually, at certain times while I read "The Nightingale" I was sickened by our modern day excess.  Vianne and Isabelle, and millions of others learned to survive on so little during the war.  WWII left a gray cloud of want, hate, sadness, death and starvation.  On the flip side of all the devastation,  "The Nightingale" also showed the tenacity of the human spirit to survive in desperate times.  Vianne and Isabelle showed resilience and love while surrounded by horrors that were unimaginable.

Maybe that is why I put myself through reading another WWII book which make me so sad - all that death, all the innocent lives lost, and the innocence of so many taken away.  Hope is what keeps people going and keeps me reading, and Hannah shows so much hope through Vianne and Isabelle's stories.  I found myself thinking often as I was reading, "Would I have been strong enough to help others?" "Would I have survived?" "Would I have sacrificed so much to keep going?" It's impossible to know what we are truly made of until we find ourselves thrown into situations where we need to survive.

I hope I never need to find out, but reading the stories of the sisters in this book (Isabelle is actually based on a real life character) will help me to remember how strong women can be.  "The Nightingale" is a must read for anyone who loves a good historical fiction book - especially those of you who are like me and can't seem to get enough of WWII historical fiction.

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