Title: The Nightingale
Author: Kristin Hannah
Genre: Adult historical fiction
Published: By St. Martin’s Press on February 3rd, 2015
ISBN13: 9780312577223 (US hardcover edition)
Content warning: Physical abuse, rape, death, war crimes
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.
I read this book as a part of a readathon based on recommendations by a few trusted sources via the audiobook format. I was prepared for it to shatter me as I’d been forewarned that it is a heart-breaking story.
The book follows the harrowing tale of two sisters living in in Nazi-occupied France and trying their best to survive. Both of them have distinct personalities and different styles of resistance, which created an interesting contrast as well as conflict when the two were together. Despite that, they shared a strong sisterly bond, which I really enjoyed. While I related more to the quieter Vianne, I thought that Isabelle’s story was much more compelling, so I can’t pick a favourite.
The plot kept shifting between the events happening in the sisters’ life and managed to keep the tension throughout. The flashes to the present day narrative made me curious as to which of the sisters was telling the story and how everything came together at the end. It was also informative in the sense that it shed light on the role women played in the resistance movement in France during World War II. It is worthwhile to note that this fictional account is inspired by true accounts that the author unearthed during her research. Hannah perfectly captured the bleak, forbidding and hopeless atmosphere of the time with her masterful prose and world-building. I also thought that the narrator, Polly Stone, did a very good job bringing this wonderful story to life. Overall, this was an emotional read that will haunt me for days to come and whose praises I can’t sing enough!
I think this is the kind of book that everyone should read in their lifetime. I would specifically recommend it to fans of historical fiction and those looking for stories about women in wartime. For the music, I would say put some relaxing instrumental mix because it’s definitely needed to offset the intensity of the book. For the food, I’d suggest something comforting as well and my pick would be French onion soup with croutons.
Have you read this book? If so, what did you think of it? Do you have any similar historical fiction recommendations for me? I want to read more from the genre next year, so recs are very much appreciated! Let me know in the comments section below.