‘If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: in love we find out who we want to be, in war we find out who we are.’
Set in France during World War 2, this epic story followsÂ two very different sisters, as they try to survive Nazi occupation and ultimately each other.The Nightingale was a journey for me, very much like a childhood trip to a stagnant seaside town, boring for most of the journey but thrilling once you get there. It was certainly intriguing from the start, starting later in life in a different country with an old lady hiding her past life. I certainly couldn’t wait to discover which of the sisters was our narrator through the flashbacks throughout the remainder of the book.
Isabelle, the impetuous, vibrant and almost annoying little sister entertains with her folly and naivety. Kicked out of school and kicked out of her Paris home by her drunk and distant father, she heads to her estranged Sister, when the war breaks out, determined to stir up trouble for the Nazi’s and help win the war.
Her sister Vianne is the sensible mother dealing with the occupation of a Nazi officer whilst her husband is at war, left to raise a child in rural southern France. She wants a peaceful life but inevitably ends up in the middle of a moral quandary, both through Isabelle’s invitation of trouble but also her own compelling duty as a mother and good person.
The first half of this book definitely struggled to keep my attention, it played out like an unrealistic love story written in the diary of a teenager. However I am so glad I stuck with it when I realised that, though love stories are the underbelly of the characters, the plot didn’t centre on this.
I was transported back in time, to dark seedy meeting places that reeked of sweat and espionage. For once the war is shown from the homes and by the wives left behind, the secret war of spies.
I grew to love both Isabelle and Vianne, both showing strength and determination, in the ways they knew how and I couldn’t help but draw reference to my own relationship with my sister, which made me love it even more.
Heroes do not always wear capes, sometimes they wear aprons.
Not only did the story become gripping but my attention was captivated throughout, by the beautiful scenes set at the nib of Kristin Hannah. I saw every broken window, felt every shudder of earth, at the drop of each bomb. The portrayal of a beautiful, pillaged land and a complex but loving relationship between sisters, was enthralling until the very end. I even cried!
My rating: 4/5
This book is not perfect and the story is not exactly I chartered territory not groundbreaking. But the fact that this may have been a familiar story for many women, made it magical to explore an important part of the war effort through some beautifully poised fiction.
If you are looking to lose yourself for a few hours this book is absolutely perfect.
Ps. Have you read The Miniaturist?
Don’t forget to pin this to your reading list so that you don’t forget this book!