A book loving friend told me I had to read The Nightingale.
“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.” These first lines in the novel by Kristen Hannah establish a theme for a gripping novel set in France during World War II as one of two sisters with her son looks back in time. Episodically, she makes an appearance reminiscing from 1995 in Oregon, leaving the reader unsure which sister is speaking until near the end of the book.
Starting with the death of their mother, leaving them in the hands of their father scared by World War I to the point that he can’t or won’t cope with two daughters who need him, the two girls grow up shunted from one place to the other. The oldest, Vianne copes by making what peace she can with the system until she falls in love, gets pregnant, and marries Antoine. Isabelle copes by testing the system and escaping from authority over and over during her adolescence.
World War II circumstances will change all three of them and bring each of them to danger and hard decisions. Switching between the two sisters as protagonists, the author leaves the reader wanting her to rescue the one before transferring to the other. Vianne, with choices that are too hard to make and unsure of what is right, reaches a faith crisis. The Mother Superior assures her, “You’re not alone, and you’re not the one in charge.”
Vianne, Isabelle, and their father find a way to make their own difference in the injustices of the war and in the process find their way back to each other. The book kept me engaged from beginning to end and had me going back to read the last chapter one more time to see how the wrap-up fulfills the promise of the opening theme.
My friend was right. This was a book I had to read, and now as your friend, I’m telling you, “You have to read The Nightingale.”