In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.
HOLY WOW!!! This book was absolutely epic! A sweeping, breathtaking journey that captivated me from the first page with the strength and beauty of the writing. Truly an unforgettable story!
The Nightingale has a 4.8/5 rating average on Amazon (which is HUGE!!) and what that basically means is that practically everyone who is reading it is loving it. And I’m now adding my own 5 STAR rating to that list because this book owned my heart. The ending was so powerful that I read the last 10 pages with tears pouring down my face and days after finishing my read, I still can’t stop thinking about it.
I will say upfront though that this book was a little different than the kinds I usually read and review though because it wasn’t solely focused on a love story, even though there were two love stories within it.
While men endure great hardship during war, it affects everyone. This is the often-unspoken story of women’s war. Mothers, daughter, sisters, wives… this is the story of their strength, endurance, sacrifice, and courage during the darkest part of their lives. So many of them didn’t just wait for their men to return but took many grave risks to save as many other lives as they could.
We begin the story in 1995 with an old woman towards the end of her life, moving out of her house into a retirement home. Without much of a future ahead of her, she begins to look backward at her past, taking us with her through her life story beginning in France 1939, right before the war changed her peaceful life.
The flash back segments of the book are largely focused on two sisters: the older Vianne, the rule follower, and the younger Isabelle, the rebel. Vianne’s idealic life in the countryside with her husband, Antoine, who she’d been in love with since she was fourteen and their young daughter, Sophie, was changed when he was to be mobilized and called to duty to fight in WW2. The postman became a soldier overnight, and the man she loved was sent to the front, leaving her behind not knowing what the future would bring.
He stood up slowly and took her in his arms. She wanted to bottle how safe she felt in this moment, so she could drink of it later when loneliness and fear left her parched…
“I love you,” he said against her lips.
“I love you, too,” she said but the words that always seemed so big felt small now. What was love when put up against war.
Months into her husband’s deployment, with no word still from him and with their already-dire situation getting worse and worse after France surrendered to Germany, Vianne and Sophie’s lives are once again changed when a young German officer requisitions their home, making it his own. Faced with one hardship after another, they both do everything they can to survive, and pray for Antoine’s safe return.
“You needn’t worry, Madame,” he said. “We have been admonished to act as gentlemen. My mother would demand the same, and, in truth, she scares me more than my general.” It was such an ordinary remark that Vianne was taken aback.
She had no idea how to respond to this stranger who dressed like the enemy and looked like a young man she might have met at church…
He remained where he was, a respectful distance from her. “I apologize for any inconvenience, Madame.”
“My husband will be home soon.”
“We all hope to be home soon.”
Miles away, Vianne’s younger sister Isabelle attends a sort of finishing school for French woman and hates every single moment of it. Her outspoken and rebellious nature unwilling to bow to their rules. When the war comes though, she makes her way through the wilderness to Paris.
Her beloved city was like a once-beautiful courtesan grown old and thin, weary, abandoned by her lovers. In less than a year, this magnificent city had been stripped of its essence by the endless clatter of German jackboots on the streets and disfigured by swastikas that flew from every monument.
Refusing to accept France’s surrender, and despite her sister’s pleading to stay quiet and safe, she follows her heart and meets a young man named Gaetan. She falls in love with him and his belief that the French can fight the Nazis from within France. But when things take an unexpected turn, she decides to take matters into her own hands, regardless of what anyone tells her she can’t do, and joins an underground group, The Resistance, that risks their lives to make a difference and help save as many others as they can.
On this cool October morning, her life would change. From the morning she boarded this train… she would no longer be the girl in the bookshop…
From now on, she was Juliette Gervaise, code name the Nightingale.
You know that feeling when a book is so absorbing that you just want to cancel all your plans so you can keep reading it… and even when you can’t read it, you’re thinking about it? Yeah, that was me with this book! Once I started reading, I could barely put it down until I’d reached the last page.
As the past and present storylines began to entwine, these shivers ran down me as certain reveals were brought into the light. Real shivers. Tears would spring to my eyes with even the simplest of things — but ones that had such a hugely powerful impact on the story. A letter from Paris. BOOM. Tears.
“Please… Just stay strong and be there for me when the time comes for me to leave this cage… Because of you, I can survive. I hope that you can find strength in me, too, V. That because of me, you will find a way to be strong.
Hold my daughter tightly tonight, and tell her that somewhere far away, her papa is thinking of her. And tell her I will return.
I love you.”
This book is honest in portraying the events that occurred to these characters, but not overly graphic. It doesn’t need to be. The things that happen, and they way they are told are so powerful that you FEEL them. There are some scenes though that are hard to read because they are quite painful and I’ll warn that there may be triggers for some people, but then again, this is a story that takes place during a brutal war. There’s everything you can expect from such a story — brutal firefights, prison camps, beatings, near starvation, sacrifice… but there is also hope, resilience, survival. As I neared the end of the book, during the last few pages, tears began to pour down my face. It was achingly beautiful.
Many of you will be wondering if there is a happy ending. I don’t want to give things away, but I want you to know that I was completely okay with this ending. It’s naturally not all sunshine and roses, how can it be with such a setting? But my gut feeling tells me that even hard-core romance fans will still love this book. I was moved to tears several times, but in many ways my heart was healed.
“I love you, Antoine Mauriac, and I expect you to come home to me.”
Kristin Hannah’s writing is some of the best I’ve ever read. It’s extraordinarily vivid and evocative. This was my first book by her and I felt like I was right there with these characters — not only were their emotions so strongly conveyed, but the picture of their surroundings came to life before my eyes.
I have searched for years without luck for a book that could even come close to comparing to my all-time favorite book, The Bronze Horseman (read more). This book however, is the closest I’ve ever come to one that captured a similar feeling. The story is vastly different — while The Bronze Horseman completely revolved around one love story that was the driving force behind the entire trilogy, The Nightingale was focused on two sisters and their experiences surviving the war — while the sisters each had their own love stories, it was their personal journeys that this book was focused on. I also found TBH to generally be more emotional than TN. So, it’s not of course a direct parallel. But I will say that if you’re a fan of TBH and if, like me, you’ve been searching for years for a similar book, then you absolutely must read this.
This was honestly one of the most powerful stories I’ve read. It will stay in my heart, I know this for a fact. More than anything, what I take away from it is gratitude… gratitude for every single freedom and luxury that I know so many of us naturally take for granted. They are precious. This book reminded me of that.
Rating: 5 STARS!! Standalone novel.
SPOILER ALERT: For those of you who want to know who lives and who dies…