Kristin Hannah often writes about sisters and relationships. And, many of those books have been bestsellers. However, with The Nightingale, a story of war-time France, she wrote an unforgettable story that should appear on book club lists. It's so much more than a story about sisters. Hannah says, "In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are." This is a powerful novel, often difficult to read at times. It may be a novel, but it's one that speaks the truth.
Sisters Viann Mauriac and Isabelle Rossignol hadn't been close since their mother died when Viann was fourteen and Isabelle was four. The two confused, lost girls were sent to the family's country home by their father, a veteran of the Great War who wasn't the man who left for that war. Viann made a friend, and found a boy to love, leaving her sister behind. Isabelle rebelled, pushed between the family and boarding schools, running away. By the time the war came to France, Isabelle was a troublesome eighteen-year-old. When the Maginot Line collapsed, and the Nazis invaded Paris, Isabelle was sent to the country to stay with Viann. And, Viann, whose husband had left for war, was left, a scared woman with a young daughter and a rebellious sister.
When war comes to their small village, the two women react differently. Viann is determined to protect her daughter, no matter what. And, Isabelle is determined to do whatever she can to oppose the Germans and the collaborators. Neither sister understands the other, and, in their chosen roles, neither woman is safe.
The Nightingale is a moving story of war, a story that must be read with few comments ahead of time. It's a story that's best left to develop. And, Hannah gives just one hint. At least one sister survives the war because she's invited back to Paris in 1995. We learn a little about her as an older woman, but it isn't until the last chapter that we learn which sister is on her way to France.
I haven't given you enough to tell you why The Nightingale is such a compelling book. And, I won't reveal more about the plot to spoil it. But, the contrast between the sisters is obvious, in lifestyle and the choices they make. The story itself is riveting, an account seldom covered in books. It's difficult to read, but it's a story that should be told. It's the story of women in time of war. In a character's voice, Hannah says, "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."
Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale isn't a woman's novel. It's a beautifully detailed novel about the women who fought in their own way, survived, and didn't leave behind a record of their courage. It's an impressive novel that should be read. Once read, it won't easily be forgotten.
Kristin Hannah's website is www.kristinhannah.com
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. St. Martin's Press. 2015. ISBN 9780312577223 (hardcover), 438p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.