I picked up The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah a few months ago. I was at my bi-monthly book club and the hostess suggested either it or The Primates of Park Avenue as our next selection. Primates sounded fun, catty, and gave us the opportunity to drink themed cocktails at our next dinner. As if we need an excuse for that. The Nightingale, on the other hand, wasn’t as immediately attractive because it seemed we had read a lot of WWII fiction, so we went with Primates. A choice we all bitterly regretted. I decided to read The Nightingale first. I blew through it and then spent a week trying to slog my way through Primates. More on that another day.
The Nightingale is wonderful. The story focuses on two French sisters, Vianne and Isabelle. Vianne lives in the Loire Valley with her husband and young daughter. She has a quiet, charmed and happy life before the war. (Anyone who has picnics in the Loire Valley as part of their daily life is blessed beyond measure.) When her husband, Antoine, is called to fight for France, she not only has to endure life without her childhood sweetheart, but is eventually called upon to house a German officer. Vianne is quiet, subdued even. She keeps her head down and her chin up.
Vianne’s younger sister, Isabelle, is a fiery nineteen year old with a long history of boarding school expulsions. After an altercation at her last school involving the proper way to eat an orange, she is sent back to Paris and her father’s bookstore. Things quickly change for both women when the Germans invade. Isabelle’s naturally feisty personality takes a political turn. The book follows the sisters throughout the war and beyond: their choices, their sacrifices, and their reactions when confronted with love and with war.
What I liked about this novel is the focus on everyday lives of the French during the war and the eventual path both sisters take. I ran across a post on A Mighty Girl‘s Facebook page recently that recounted a woman named Nancy Wake, a British secret agent. I won’t go in to more detail here, as I don’t want to spoil the novel, but I will say that I love stumbling across true stories that have inspired novels after I’ve finished the book. It gives me a chance to revisit the characters and places in my mind, and gives me a little bit of proof that the magic from the book really may have happened.
From the picnic basket, she withdrew a crusty baguette, a wedge of rich, double-creme cheese, two apples, some slices of paper-thin Bayonne ham, and a bottle of Bollinger ’36.
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.
Helpful links regarding the book and other recommended reads:
Buy the book here
Read about author Kristin Hannah here (A note: Ms. Hannah is one of those former attorneys who has eschewed her legal career to gain fame and fortune as an author. I hate her. In only the most affectionate way.)
Read A Mighty Girl’s brief story on Nancy Wake here
Read more about Nancy Wake and others like her in Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue, found here
And finally, if you recall the Reading Challenge I mentioned from my local library, this book satisfied the category ” A book with a strong female lead.”