Book Review: The Nightingale

“I always thought it was what I wanted: to be loved and admired. Now I think perhaps I’d like to be known.”
― Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale
Book Title: The Nightingale
Author: Kristin Hannah
Publication Date: 2017
Genres: Adult Fiction, LGBTQ+
Goodreads Rating: 4.29 Stars
My Rating: 4.5 Stars

Despite their differences, sisters Vianne and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Vianne is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Vianne finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her.

As the war progresses, the sisters’ relationship and strength are tested. With life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Vianne and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.

1. This was almost a 5 star book. Guys, you know I don’t say that lightly. If you click on the 5 Star tag on this blog, you get one review. If you look on Goodreads, there’s only about 25 books tagged as 5 stars, and only 3 of those are from the last two years (and 7 of them are Harry Potter so…) This book was so close to making the cut.

2. These characters though. I loved these characters. I identified so strongly with Vianne. If I lived in the WWII era, I would have been her. She was timid. She followed the rules. She waited so patiently for her husband to come home, even though she knew he would be irreparably damaged from the war. She did all the right things, even though the pit of her stomach was telling her that she shouldn’t. She played nice with the German soldiers to protect her family, and she tried her hardest to save her best friend’s family too.

2b. But I would have wished I were Isabelle. Dude. Isabelle is a badass. From page one, she was cunning and daring and rebellious and hot-headed. She fell in love, but it wasn’t her central story (try as the author might make it out to be). Her central conflict was between herself and her family — the ideals her family held her to, the past she was trying to overcome, and the need to rebel and DO SOMETHING for France. Kristin Hannah based Isabelle on a real woman named Andrée de Jongh, and I just wish I could be half as daring as Isabelle (and de Jongh).

3. A WWII book? Really? I know. I hate WWII books. Honestly, they are some of my least favorite historical fiction novels. I just cannot stomach the Holocaust. (I mean… duh. But it’s one of the few things that really, really gets to me.) It’s a shame so many amazing books are set in that era. This novel was really interesting to me because it was set in France, and I had very little knowledge about the role France played during the war. It gave me a completely new side to the war (with minimal concentration camp imagery). Plus, Kristin Hannah was really able to use the war setting to put the characters in predicaments where their decision making shined… the decisions the characters made truly defined their personality, and it had me wondering what I would do in similar circumstances.

4. So why not 5 stars? Call me nit-picky. Really. There were a few parts that really lagged, and I just really hated every romantic relationship in this novel. Luckily, the romance was not front and center, as the characters had many more internal conflicts than they did romantic conflicts, but the bit that was in there seemed contrived. It is certainly still one of the best books I’ve read all year, and I totally see what all the hype was about!

Isabelle and Vianne represent two very different woman living with the very difficult choices they were forced to make, but their struggles make them human.

“But love has to be stronger than hate, or there is no future for us.”

“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.”

“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.”

“Some stories don’t have happy endings. Even love stories. Maybe especially love stories.”

“I know that grief, like regret, settles into our DNA and remains forever a part of us.”

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