Published: February 3, 2015
Awards: Goodreads Choice Award for Historical Fiction (2015)
This WW2 historical fiction novel was a slow starter for me, however the character development and historical background were so beautifully and masterfully laid out that I was compulsively reading toward the end. In fact, I was on a plane with tears streaming down my face for the last 15% of the novel. My 5 year old son asked me what the words were in the book that were making me cry. How could I even begin to explain!???
This is a heart-rending novel, full of love and compassion, contrasted by war. The quote that starts the book off and is really the theme weaving itself throughout the novel within each of the characters and their relationship to each other is, “In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.” The main plot of this novel pivots on the relationship between two sisters and their different manners of resisting and/or complying with the German occupation of France during WW2. Their understanding of war grows and helps them to better understand their father and his mistreatment of them when they were younger.
I have not read Kristin Hannah’s other books, but have heard that they are considered more of the “romance” and “chic-lit” genres. I was somewhat skeptical at the outset of this novel that this might be the same as she is very descriptive in her writing, however, I grew to love and linger on her descriptions of items, people, and geography with such detail. She describes aromas, tastes, feelings, and an array of other senses so vividly that I as the reader, felt fully transplanted while reading. But, I also felt that there was a shift in her writing style from pre-war to wartime. The writing was much more “flowery” in the pre-war era and during wartime things moved more quickly.
Kristin Hannah handled the relationships within the book masterfully. I love how beautifully she describes the the bonds between sisters, between lovers, between mother and child. The love, mistrust, abandonment, terror, and so many feelings are so vivid and intense in this book.
This novel goes in and out of present day for the narrator (1995) in America on the Oregon Coast to a third-person narrating 1939 and through WW2 in France. It is unclear until the end of the book which sister the narrator actually is, Vianne or Isabelle.
This map depicts the occupied and free zones which were spoke of in the book. Both Vianne and Isabelle are in the Loire Valley during the early part of German military occupation. Isabelle leaves Vianne to move to Paris and become part of the french resistance and ultimately “The Nightingale” helping to take downed pilots to safety across the Pyrenees, via Tours to Spain. Vianne’s initial instinct is to protect her child and cooperate, but ultimately resists the French by helping Jewish children to safety. The book highlights the role of women in WW2.
- Why is Isabelle’s title “The Nightingale”? Is it because nightingales sing mostly at night? Is there another reason?
- How does the book’s opening statement relate to characters in the book? “In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.” How does this play out with Vianne and Isabelle’s father; Vianne; Isabelle; the German officers billeting at Vianne’s house; Antoine?
- How does this book compare with other WW2 historical fiction novels taking place in France? Some examples include “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr and “Life after Life” by Kate Atkinson. Do you have a favorite WW2 historical fiction novel?
- Did you find yourself identifying with one sister more than the other? Did you find yourself admiring one sister more than the other? Who did you expect to be the narrator at the end?
- If you’ve read other Kristin Hannah books, how does this book compare with her other books?
- Do you think France felt shame at it’s role in complying with the German occupation and enforcing internment of Jews in camps after the war?