Updated: Oct 23, 2018
The Nightingale is a choice summer read, offering a tale set in WW2 France complete with spies and intrigue and family relationships torn apart by war.
My husband heard me crying as I reached the last page of The Nightingale and sent our sheepdog upstairs to comfort me. The novel’s end wasn’t sad or depressing, but rather richly rewarding—the kind that makes a person cry.
Author Kristen Hannah’s inspiration for this story snuck up on her. After reading about a Belgian woman who created an escape route out of Nazi-occupied France, rescuing Jewish children and Allied airman, Hannah was so struck by the courage and heroism that she asked herself, “When would I, as a wife and mother, risk my life—and more importantly, my child’s life—to save a stranger?” which is just what Vianne Mauriac must determine.
The Nightingale actually begins in 1995 told in first person by a character whose identity is a mystery. The opening of an attic trunk prompts the remembrance and return to WW2 France, and a tale told in third-person by sisters Vianne and Isabelle Mauriac.
Vianne Mauriac’s husband Antoine has been called to the Front leaving her alone with their young daughter. Conditions worsen as the two run out of food and money and they must board the enemy: a German officer, forcing Vianne to make horrible choices with catastrophic consequences.
Whereas Vianne is a rule follower and dependent on others, her restless younger sister Isabelle is an independent rebel. In the course of her travels she falls in love with a resistance fighter and her impulsive actions intersect the lives of Vianne’s family and also put loved ones at risk.
These two sisters, estranged from one another and their war-scarred father, are forever altered by the war and the decisions they make to survive. Their mistakes demand healing and atonement. These themes of sacrifice, forgiveness, reconciliation, redemption, and the resiliency of family, make this a work of beauty in an ugly world. This is the second novel by Hannah that I have read (Winter’s Garden) and both are titles I would call “Readeemable.”
While on a college tour with my daughter, I splurged on a Mudslide Brownie topped with pecans and caramel. Though it promised to be delicious, instead it tasted like Kraft caramel and boxed cake. I ate it anyway.
But I won’t finish a book that’s dry, tasteless, and unoriginal. To get to the last page, it must be deliciously satisfying. Anything less than stellar here? Yes. Because Hannah’s language and sensory details are so beautiful, poor editing sticks out like a sore thumb. I used the cliche “sore thumb” on purpose just like Hannah used “after what felt like an eternity.” Similarly, Vianne “tented her eyes” was a lovely description until it appeared three times by page 63, and Hannah’s erroneous ages of characters also disrupted the flow and eloquence of her prose, causing me to re-read that section for comprehension. Do these editing oversights spoil the novel? Not for me. In fact, I underlined half of the first page because of its descriptions and definitions, including the narrator’s observation, “The past has a clarity I can no longer see in the present.”
A little more clarity in editing would have perfected the novel but it remains a Readeemaby wonderful read and a choice novel for this summer.