Book Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

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Category: A Book Set in a Foreign Land

France, 1940. As sisters, Vianne and Isabelle couldn’t be more opposite. Vianne, older, married, with a child has waved her husband off to the front to help defend France from Hitler when her younger sister arrives. She disapproves of Isabella, younger, outspoken and kicked out of school after school due to her poor behaviour and inability to comply or follow instructions. She’s a liability. As the Germans invade France the war arrives not just in their town, but forces itself into their home in the form of SS Captain Beck. Vianne wants to toe the line in order to keep her home and her daughter safe. Isabelle, angry and rebellious wants to fight, and hard.
Each sister sets off on a journey of their own, fighting and surviving in the face of adversity.

This is a beautifully written story set in the most desolate of settings. Reminiscent of The Book Theif and All the Light We Cannot See, The Nightingale differs in the shaping of it’s older, determined female characters. Hannah so eloquently shapes these two very different women in to strong, resilient heroines, who will stop at nothing to keep their family and others safe. Isabelle and Vianne are well constructed, their struggles and motivations real. The way Hannah has conveyed the raw desperation of survival during occupied France is written in such a way as to make it real for the reader, but not in a way which overpowers the hope and optimism our heroines are fighting for. The brutality and horror of the Holocaust is communicated when required, the realities of war explored in a way that allows the spirit of our heroines shine. The first third of the text takes a slower pace to the rest of the book, but once there, you won’t want to put this novel down. The last six pages will be sure to conjure a tear or two and break your heart.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, much more than anything I have read in the past two years. I felt so connected to the characters and mourned their exit from my life once I had finished reading, the first book hangover I’ve had since reading The Bronze Horseman. 
Much like All the Light You Cannot See and The Book Thief, The Nightingale attempts to embody the spirit of determination, resilience and the overwhelming sense of what’s right and good in the world during the darkest of times. If you enjoyed these texts, you will enjoy The Nightingale.

Five/Five stars.

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