Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Nightingale

Title:  The Nightingale
Author:  Kristin Hannah
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2015. 448 pages.
ISBN:  0312577222 / 978-0312577223

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Shelf Awareness.

Opening Sentence:  "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."

Favorite Quote:  "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." (The opening sentence is indeed my favorite quote from the book.)

Viann Mauriac and Isabelle Rossignol are sisters. They lost their mother at a young age and were abandoned by their father. Viann married young and is now a mother to young Sophie. Isabelle is still searching for where she belongs in life. Is it with her father who seems not to want her? Is it with her sister, who seems to have left Isabelle behind in creating her new life with husband and child? Is Isabelle alone?

War has come to France. Officially, the government of France has surrendered to German forces. What does the surrender bring? Peace or subjugation? Should the French people resist? What is the cost of surrendering, and what is the cost of resistance?

Viann and Isabelle take different paths through the war, both seeking to preserve what they hold dear. Viann's husband is a soldier at war, and she has a young child to think of. The Germans have invaded her village and her very home. What is the price she is willing to pay to keep her daughter safe? Can she stay removed from the rest of the conflict and keep her focus on her daughter? At what point are the atrocities she sees become too much and come too close to home for her to take a stand? In her own way, with quiet strength, Viann becomes a hero.

In the French resistance, Isabelle finds a place to belong and a purpose to channel the love and energy that has not found a place since the death of her mother. She is willing to go further and take greater risks for what she believes. She becomes not only a hero but a symbol of the Resistance.

Two women with different paths, but each leading to acts of heroism at a great cost to their own lives.

Kristin Hannah's note to reader states that a goal for this book is to remember the stories of the women in the war for they are "all too often forgotten or overlooked." This book captures a story of World War II and the French resistance - the very different but equally important roles of two women.

The book begins decades later, in 1995, with the reflections back of one unnamed woman. The book deliberately does not state whether it is Viann and Isabelle reflecting back. Do both survive or just one? If just one, then which one? You have to wait until the end to find out.

The premise of this book is a strong one, as is the setting and the history from which it draws.  However, reading it, I had the feeling throughout that I have read this story before. If not exactly this story, then many like it.

Given the horrific experiences of the sisters during the war, I expected the book to grab my attention and emotion and hold it throughout. It does not. The events seem predictable - love found during the war, a secret hiding place in a barn, a reconciliation, a sacrifice, etc. The book at times is also overly melodramatic; everything seems to happen to these sisters - rape, betrayal, love, loss, capture, torture, and more. The history of this time period is strong enough for an emotional story. Every negative experience of a war scenario does not need to be included; sometimes less is more.

The book is readable as are most of Kristin Hannah's books. The characters are sympathetic as are most of her characters. The story depicts an aspect of history that should be remembered. It's just not as strong an addition to this genre as have come before.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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