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.
I’ve read the Romanian version of the book – Privighetoarea, translated by Ruxandra Târcă and Gabriel Tudor
Genre: Historical Fiction
Page count: 476 (Romanian version), 564 (English Paperback version)
Ranting: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (more like 4.5/5)
I don’t know what is wrong with me, but I really have a predilection when I read historical fiction: The Second World War.
Even in school, I always thought that this was the most interesting part of the whole history we were taught (maybe because our history teacher was a bit obsessed with that period too, who knows).
As a Romanian (thus a European), the whole WWII had a great impact on my country and history as it did with every other country in Europe not only. And in school, we are taught about what tactics were used and what happened and who was an ally with whom and so on. Basically, my country was actively involved in all this crap. Furthermore, my country was caught between two great forces (Nazi Germany and USSR; not as bad as Poland though (bless your heart Polska, you didn’t deserve that) but we somehow managed, don’t know how ’cuz we are rubbish at stuff like war and others). Yeah, so, they both pressed us and tried to oppress us, both being great big enemies and so on…guys, we had a miserable part to play in that war nonetheless.
Now I get a bit emotional when reading and talking about things like this and all I want to say is that after we were taught in school about this very big subject in global history and also reading a lot of books about that and seeing countless documentaries, I have a pretty decent image of the actions in that war to make the following affirmations.
I want to start talking about this book – The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.
I thought I was going to love this so much as I did with other WWII-plot-based books, but after about 250 pages it was something about it that to me felt incomplete. And I was fairly disappointed. It felt exactly how it was but it didn’t want to seem like: a story of some French girls living in the WWII France, a story narrated by an American.
I am not being mean. I am only being honest. Here, either the story was indeed a bit sugar-coated as a historical fact, or I don’t know, man, it was maybe too much of the American enthusiastic positive thinking in it. French suffered more in the war then seeing the Germans drinking their French wine really, but after all, everyone suffered big time in that war, including Germany (if you believe it or not). It was war, no one got out of there looking richer or more beautiful or smarter. And this is an universally approved fact.
Now, living all this sensitive content of who is good and who is bad behind because it isn’t the point here because in war everything changes and nothing is good or bad anymore, let’s move to the actual plot. Because things changed dramatically after more than half of boring and slow description and half-actions.
„In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”
I will say that I loved the whole idea of the 1995 perspective upon the events that happened from the summer of 1939 on. It is a great way to construct a novel, it gives it a bit of fluidity and a sense of emotional connection. It shows that the same very person can live as many and as different lives in the real life. It is a fascinating narrative perspective. And giving the fact that at the end the whole idea comes with a twist it makes it even more special. It is heart-felt.
„Of course, men always think war is about them.”
But it is not. When war is the cause, everyone is involved. Women just choose to keep it to their selfless principles. Because wars ignite from the selfish desires of proud people.
I really loved this whole idea of putting in spotlight the fact that war is not only for men but also women have crucial roles in the whole process. Women in war are like the link of a chain in a great big machine – if there’s no link, there’s no machine. War is dangerous, but even so, those women back then chose to sneak around the so-called law forced upon them, look the danger in the eyes and smile. And this is what makes them greater than they think they could be.
„Men tell stories (…). 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.”
We must remember the women who fought for their nations. They fought beyond their duty – because they were never asked to do it, they did it out of love and belief. How much courage does one need to start fighting for a piece of land that one can call „homeland”? I ask myself after reading this if I would’ve been as crazy and courageous and determined to fight for my own country as women during the war did and I cannot convince myself to answer honestly, simply because I don’t know the answer. And I hope I will never live enough to find it.
Those two sisters in the book, Vianne and Isabelle, are as different one from another as Mars and Neptun. Vianne is sensitive, taciturn, happy to live a simple life, she doesn’t need to stand out in any way – she’s a survivor; Isabelle, on the other hand, is wild and free and full of passion and has an enormous desire to help do big things – she’s a fighter. What this war thought the two sisters is that they need to fight their own fight along with the others in order to get through – and the ways to do it are dangerous and unimaginable, almost impossible.
Even though I said the first half of the book made me question the decision of picking up this book in the first place, the second half was there to slap me in the face and show me how good it is. And it was so good it made me cry so ugly until the very last page that now I feel like I am botched and don’t want to show my face until it heals.
The book was a mixture of amazing persons with beautiful and courageous hearts put in the wrong place at the wrong time, alongside wicked people with poisoned minds and hearts. I can’t even tell you how much I loved and respected Rachel de Champlain, this amazingly strong woman who didn’t back down and couldn’t let anyone back her down. And also, what an amazing character Captain Wolfgang Beck was? I mean, he truly was the voice of so, so many good Germans who purely had to fight for their country because they had to respect a vow they’ve made to the homeland and to themselves. Beck really was put there to show the world that not all good guys are good guys and definitely not all bad ones are as bad as they are shown to be.
Black is the night when its sky is moonless, but, after all, everyone knows the stars are still there.
„But love has to be stronger than hate, or there is no future for us.”
This book teaches us to love. It shows us the horrors of a loveless world and it reminds us to love each other any and every day.
The story it depicts is crushing, cruel and inhuman, but it is mended together with love and with hope and a crushed heart can somehow be glued back together with that magic feeling of inner warmth. This whole book, all of it, is shown to be made with love. And this is such an important ingredient in achieving the attention and admiration of everyone who reads it.
Also, as endnote or side note, I couldn’t help but wonder: what if Mrs Hannah had a tiny bit of inspiration from the whole history of yet another famous nightingale, „The Lady with the Lamp”, Florence Nightingale? Just a thought, but, coincidence or not, the idea was, after all, very cleverly put together.