Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Kristin Hannah - The Nightingale

FRANCE, 1939
In the 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 Gäetan, 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.

Comment: This was quite a well liked book for many people, especially in 2015 and 2016 when the hype was high. I purchased my copy at a book fair but I have delayed reading it because everything pointed to the fact it would be a book to make you cry.... finally, I scheduled a buddy reading with someone and we dived in. I liked it but mostly for some a whole I wouldn't go and say it was a favorite.

In this story we meet sisters Vianne and Isabelle, who have completely opposite personalities, as they go though the events from 1939 and onward. The second world war is happening, France is conquered by the nazis and in some places, there's occupation by them. Such is the case of Vianne's house and she can't say no to that decision. She only hopes things end quickly so she can have her husband and her life back. Her younger sister Isabelle is in Paris but their aloof father sends her south because he believes she will be more protected. However, Isabelle is a rebel and after a while she can't take sharing a house with a nazi anymore so she leaves again for the capital. As we learn about the difficulties the sisters face, as well as all the injustices being committed, is there any room for hope?

I think I understand what the hype was about and why this title was so well received and even won some awards. The story is detailed but not overly graphic and there's a clear focus on the sister's paths and the consequences. I think the aim was to make this an unforgettable story about facing adversity but there were a couple of things that failed to impress me.

Before that, however, I should say that I liked reading the book and I liked thee was a certain mystery around the storytelling. The first chapter is told from the POV of an old lady and the kind of information she shares is vague enough to let us realize the story will be dramatic but not s much we can guess right away who is saying those things. Therefore, there's this on going mystery until the last chapter on who is the old lady. Of course I had my ideas but I assumed it had to be one of the main protagonists.

This, then, sets the tone for the rest of the story. We are told about what happens by alternate entries of the two sisters, where we follow what happens to them as the plot moves along. Their choices are as opposite as their personalities but, I suppose, the interesting element here is that nothing is black and white, perhaps not even in a war, and their choices make them think and consider what will happen to them. I liked this "human" side of things, but I must admit I wasn't always as...dedicated to their plights as I feel I should.

I imagine this might be one of the elements I found less captivating... For most of the novel (more or less until chapter 31 or 32) I was sad over some things, some scenes, but it wasn't as heart wrenching as I thought the book would be. The WWII is such a theme, more times not not it can make you incredibly sad and overwhelmed, but in this case I wasn't feeling it. I don't even think it was because the author wanted to do this on purpose, I just feel the writing to me simply made things seem...detached. Then the final chapters come in and well, I guess that's where all the crying is supposed to happen because some scenes did make me cry.

Another element I didn't find as compelling - everyone sees things their won way! - was Isabelle's work in the Resistance. Yes, it was risky, brave, necessary and all that but the mechanics, the descriptions of what she did, that I imagine were there to highlight the danger, the sheer belief they were doing something important (which they were), simply felt unappealing to me to read about them. I can't explain but I confess I skimmed a few paragraphs.

Unlike other readers, I was much more interested in what was happening to Vianne and her challenges in keeping up appearances, having to try to be calm in the midst of such worries. To me, the biggest twists/shock factor situations were related to her and how she lived this period of occupation. There were some passages that were quite dramatic and well done by the author when it came to Vianne.

Things progress in a way that we just have to know something bad will happen. Some do before the end, that affect what comes next and some of those events make think "really" but in a surprising way, I didn't expect the author to write the plot like that. When we come to the end of the novel and things seem to start being fixed, ready for a conclusion, there are some emotional scenes I think were well done too.

Many people talk about this being a tale of women during the war, how they coped, how they had to endure and resist such difficulties, how they also risked their lives, whether for their country or their sanity, and I appreciate all the possible ways of looking at this. Nevertheless, some parts of the book worked well for me, other parts weren't as captivating, and in the end I liked it but it wasn't as great as I thought it would be. I'll read another book by the author to compare the writing style.
Grade: 7/10

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