Vianne says goodbye to her husband Antoine as he leaves for the war. She is reserved, a teacher and mother to Sophie and is naive to the Nazis invading her small village of Carriveau, France. As the Germans invade she remains constant and protective of her family and friends. Even when her home becomes a place for soldiers to billet, she remains positive and reluctant to cause any trouble. That all changes when put to the test and realizes that Isabelle’s defiance is something she need to possess in order to survive.
Isabelle has never fit in. She has been trying to find her place in the world after being kicked out of many schools and abandoned by her father and sister Vianne throughout her life. She is rebellious and head strong, but those characteristics come to use when she become a vital part of the Resistance and is known as “The Nightingale”, helping soldiers escape occupied France and passing along information to warm her people.
The Nightingale is not your typical WWII story because it focuses on the lives of the women. The women who are left at home to remain strong, hopeful and endure the viciousness of the German invaders.
“Men tell stories,” I say. It is the truest, simplest answer to his question. “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.”
Although I knew what could happen going in, the specifics of the war were harrowing and excruciating to read on the page. Hannah does a beautiful job highlighting the roles of the women, showing their strengths and weaknesses, their fears and bravery and most of all their resilience and hope. I stepped away from reading Hannah’s novels a few years ago. Not because I didn’t like them, but women’s lit (chick-lit-I hate that term) was all she was really putting out there. This was such a different novel from her usual fare. I love historical fiction in general but this perspective from the women was such a lovely change.
Grab some tissues, recommend this to your book group and fall in love with Hannah’s writing as she creates characters you will want to hold onto long after the book has ended.