I asked on Facebook a while back for book recommendations. I’ve been reading so much lately and just wanted some new material. Someone recommended Kristin Hannah’s Firefly Lane, which was fantastic! I boo hoo’d for the last 30 pages – luckily in the middle of the night so baby Skywalker was the only one to witness those tears. 😉 When I finished I went to our library’s online catalog and placed requests for several other books that had been recommended. None were available at the time, but The Nightingale was, so I decided to try another of Hannah’s books.
The Nightingale is a completely different story than Firefly Lane. The story follows two sisters in occupied France during WWII. I love period fiction, and anything that takes place in France. I love feeling like I am transported to another time. I enjoy being reminded of the French culture that I fell in love with years ago. The Nightingale did not disappoint.
I became so vested in the characters and their relationship. Vianne and Isabelle have a strained relationship. Their mother died when they were young and then they were abandoned by their father. For some sisters this could bring them closer to rely on one another in times of crisis, but not these sisters. They grew father apart, resented on another, and didn’t hold the same values, or maybe they just had different priorities. Reminds me of my own strained sisterly relationship.
Each sister faces her own challenges during the war and responds in her own way to survive and make a difference. While Vianne’s husband is gone in the war, she has two German soldiers occupy her home, one after another. Her primary goal is to protect her home and her daughter. She is pitted in unbearable situations. She oftentimes regrets her actions, but still strives to do what is right. Isabelle works her way into an underground group in Paris to save France from the Nazis. Her story parallels that of Andree de Jonghe, the real-life Belgian woman who escorted over 100 downed airmen to safety through the Pyrenees during the war.
While both sisters demonstrate strength in the face of adversity, they are misunderstood. To protect one another, they do not share their secret missions and so Vianne’s view of Isabelle as the irresponsible young girl does not change, and Isabelle’s view of Vianne, the older sister who is never there to help in times of need, does not change.
My mind kept wandering to my grandparents who were teenagers in Holland during the war. How much of this did they live through? How many of their closest friends suffered in similar ways? How did they respond as human rights were stripped away time and time again? I know that they had ration cards. I know that my grandfather was in a work camp. But I don’t know a lot of the details of German occupation or their treatment.
I couldn’t put this book down. For me, it made the war personal. It showed me a sisters’ relationship that doesn’t always see eye to eye, but can still be working toward the same goal. The Nightingale was an emotional read filled with longing, regret, love, and hope.