The Nightingale

 

nightingale

In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In a quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France …but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gaetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can …completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real — and deadly — consequences.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah takes her talented pen to the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France — a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

440 pages; Historical Fiction; 2015

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I have a special place in my heart for [“Night Road”] and [“Magic Hour”] so I was a little wary about picking this one up in case it was the one that broke the Kristin Hannah spell for me. Thankfully, it has done the opposite and given me more of a reason to admire her work.

War comes to mind and immediately, we think of the suffering of its men. Very rarely do we stop to wonder what it must have been like for the women. Their war within the war of men was quieter but also fought with great strength and sacrifice. Although this is a tale of fiction, it reflects on the truths that lie on the other side of war – the one at home where there no men left to turn to for protection or care, where women learned that they were made of more than they thought.

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We meet two sisters ten years apart in age and in life. Having lost their mother young and abandoned by the only parent they had left, the two coped in different ways. The elder, Vianne, is 28, happily married and mother to a beautiful little girl. She is the calm. The younger, Isabelle, finds herself expelled from yet another (her fourth) school for girls at 18 years old. She is the storm. The two couldn’t be more different but when the Nazis barge their way into France, they are aligned in valour and perseverance.

Vianne finds herself married to a postman one day, and a soldier the next. The last thing she expects is to discover that her sister was one of the bruised and battered that trekked from Paris seeking sanctuary wherever it was offered. Matters (and tempers) worsen when Vianne’s household is conscripted to board a Nazi, who delivers news of Vianne’s beloved – Antoine has been taken as a prisoner of war.

Isabelle, furious with the surrender of France, eagerly leaves the fictional village of Carriveau and risks her life time and time again to come to the aid of those who still believe they have a fighting chance. Unable to reveal her plans to her disapproving sister, Isabelle is forced to make her sister believe the worst in her. Vianne comes to the awful conclusion that despite all that is going wrong with the world, Isabelle’s priorities orbit around a runaway love above all.

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Both Rossignol women will carve their names into (fictional) history. And it is a story well worth the time.

Hoping to keep her daughter fed and safe, Vianne rages against battles of her own just to see another day. But in the wake of her sister’s absence, Vianne unearths a fearlessness hidden within her after all. Another Rossignol has risen, another Rossignol will be a heroine in her own right.

And what of their father, whose soul left him the day his wife passed on? Will he take the opportunity to finally show his daughters a father’s love? Will he do the Rossignol name proud as well, revealing to all where that fiery spirit comes from?

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{ highlight for spoilers }

Isabelle Rossignol takes on the name Juliette Gervaise and as The Nightingale, leads downed airmen over the Pyrenees and into Spain where safety awaits them. As the novel wears on, Isabelle is no longer the girl whose mischief made her unwanted. She is an incomparable asset to the Resistance and has completed her mission nearly 30 times before she is captured by the Nazis, tortured for information, and sent to a concentration camp in Ravensbruck for the remainder of the war (9 months).

A special set of circumstances (not all spoilers included!) brings a second Nazi under her roof. A harsher, crueler one without the gentlemanly ways of the first. He brings rape and beatings into Vianne’s home and try as she might, she cannot shield her daughter from the nightly suffering her mother is forced to endure.

Despite the unnerving presence of the Nazi and the consequences should she get caught, Vianne adds to the victories of the French in her own way. Vianne smuggled nineteen Jewish children to the sisters’ care at the orphanage in Carriveau. Able to foresee the possibility of reunification with the children’s families in the future, she devised a system that would match each child’s new name with their birth name and the location they had been taken to when rescued.

Papa Rossignol – the face he shows the world is one who helps to serve the Nazis. In actuality, he aids the Resistance as he forges documentation to those in need of escape, of new identities. When his daughter is tortured for information on The Nightingale, he makes the ultimate sacrifice by claiming the name and all that The Nightingale is known for. All to save his daughter, to show her that she and her sister were always loved. Maybe not all always shown, but always, always loved.

Pick this one up and take a peek at what was real for women of the past. I focused on the two ways these women helped save as many as they could …but there are many more shades of the suffering they endured. Thought I’d save at least those for your reading pleasure!

I cannot imagine the kind of woman I could have been to have lived in a time of hardship such as WWII. Just knowing there truly were women who took risks as extreme as these, who did what they could for the betterment of the following generation, it warms my heart. I salute them for their valour and their sacrifices and I won’t fail to pay tribute to them as much as I do the men, the survivors and the fallen.

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1. Unchained Melody – The Righteous Brothers
2. Heaven – Do (cover)
3. Can’t Help Falling In Love – Elvis Presley
4. Red and Black – Les Misérables cast
5. I Dreamed A Dream – Anne Hathaway
6. A Father’s Love (The Only Way He Knew How) – High Valley
7. Imagine – John Lennon
8. Missing You – Brandy, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Tamia
9. Candle In The Wind – Elton John


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“She’d fallen in love with him fifteen years ago, on the school play yard, before she’d even known what love is.”

“We remember the missing as much as the lost.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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