R E V I E W – B O O K
“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.”
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is a book that I believe should be read by history buffs, lovers of strong female leads, and in general bookworms because of how well written the book is. The plot, despite the multiple timelines—one set in France during the Nazi invasion in WW2, and the other in modern times in the USA wherein one of the main protagonists reflects upon the past—flows perfectly, keeping the readers mesmerised until the final page of the book wherein we get to learn the final results of the characters that we had started to love earlier.
I liked how the book follows two different women—each entirely different from the other despite being sisters—fighting to survive and helping those who have no one to protect them despite the inherent risks to their own lives, a contribution by a certain gender of society that history just willfully decides to forget — no matter how extraordinary their achievement is. The remarks upon how women are expected to go on as if nothing happened were also a nice touch to set the overall feeling of the book.
The book begins by following Vianne, an elderly woman currently living in the USA, reflecting upon the past after receiving a letter from France stating that those who helped in the war were to be commemorated. We are immediately taken back to the past when France is just about to be invaded by Nazi Germany. Vianne initially decides to stay aloof and not believe that any harm would be brought to her or her family until her own husband is called to fight in the war—a reaction many would probably have when suddenly faced with a trauma-inducing situation. We follow the journey of Vianne as she starts from being a self-centred woman to gradually helping her Jewish friend Rachel and her children, all the while housing a Nazi officer in her home.
Vianne’s younger sister, Isabelle Rossignol, a girl with a rebel streak who is thought of as a nuisance by her family, risks her life by joining the resistance and helping downed airmen by taking them through the Pyrenees Mountains to land controlled by allied forces. A girl of such a young age to accomplish that multiple times is nothing short of heroism that is to be told for ages to come. However, her final end is heartbreaking. Her love for Gaetan, a prisoner recently released to fight in the war, is an interesting addition to the book that added to readers’ love for the character.
Women like Isabelle, Vianne, and the other members of the Resistance fought hard and risked it all. Without them, the losses suffered by France would be higher, but after the war, their stories were not told, nor were they honoured. Still, they went on with their lives as if their participation in the war were just another simple day in their lives.
The Nazi occupation of France during WW2 and the situation that the citizens of France underwent at the time, and its strain on families, relationships, socioeconomic conditions, and the sacrifices made by women during the war add to the plot in a way that allows the reader to sympathise with the characters.
The bittersweet ending with Vianne sharing her and Isabelle’s activities in the war with her son is also pretty good. The fact that Vianne is able to raise her son in the image of her father Antoine, a man she loved a little too late, brings the book to a satisfying close.
Rabab Rayan is a Business undergrad trying to excel academically but failing spectacularly.