Updated: Mar 29, 2020
Historical fiction is a genre that I often overlook. It is incredible when you think about how much time and work goes into authoring a book in this genre. The amount of research must take ages and the character development cannot be a simple task. Kristin Hannah is an incredible author in the historical fiction genre. Her writing and her character development has such depth. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah embodies all of this.
I was late to the game on reading The Nightingale. I had it sitting on my shelf for months, waiting to be added to my TBR list. I am not sure what was holding me back. I think mostly it is the heaviness that historical fiction usually has. I have to be in the right mindset to dive into the story and be ready to take my time with finishing it. Historical fiction tends to be dense writing and I need to be in the right headspace. I did not find this one to be a quick read, but I have also been in a reading slump lately, so I took my time. This book deserves just that. It deserves to be savored. The story is deep and intricate. The characters are well developed and feel like real people. Sometimes, when I read a Kristin Hannah book, I cannot believe that the characters are not real people. That is how good she is at developing a character.
The Nightingale is a historical fiction book set in France, during World War II. The Nazis are invading the surrounding areas and start to occupy France, forcing the residents into dire straights. Vianne and Isabelle, two sisters by blood, both trying to survive the war, show a different perspective of what the time was like. Vianne is a school teacher, with a husband and young daughter. She must learn how to survive the war after her husband is drafted and she is forced to open her home to a German soldier. Isabelle is Vianne's strong willed, younger sister, who has passion pulsing through her that urges her to help France, in anyway she can. Isabelle meets individuals involved in a movement to work against the Germans and help downed pilots escape to safe territory. Both sisters have very different experiences during the war and their stories are both inspirational and heartbreaking.
Vianne is forced to survive without her husband and keep her daughter safe during the war torn times. They battle starvation and cold, as well as the wrath of the German soldiers taking everything that once belonged to them. Vianne must remain strong for her daughter and focuses on this as her sole purpose during the war. Despite her meek demeanor, Vianne struggles with how to make a difference during these trying times. She finds strength and inspiration during the war to help orphaned children whose parents have been sent to concentration camps. She aids them in changing their identities and ushers them to safety.
While Vianne is struggling to survive the war, Isabelle is leading a movement and helping France in anyway she can. She finds a group of individuals who invest their time rescuing downed pilots escape enemy territory. Each pilot she saves is one less killed by the war and one more that can keep fighting for France. Isabelle finds a sense of purpose in this work, but is also careful because it is a huge risk. Each sister's story is incredible in its own way. I felt more connected with Vianne, being that she is a mother and I could picture myself in her shoes, but Isabelle had incredible strength and courage. I loved her story of how she persevered and helped the French cause, risking her life in the process.
I do not want to give away any spoilers, but the last 100 pages of The Nightingale had me rapidly turning the pages to find out how their stories ended. The last two chapters were so jam packed with emotion, I sobbed as I finished the book. Kristin Hannah has a way of invoking so many emotions when you read her stories. Because of this, she is truly one of my favorite authors. The Nightingale is an incredible story that transports you back in time and envelops you in the history. I highly recommend this book if you enjoy reading historical fiction, especially stories set during WWII. I tend to gravitate towards that time period if I go for this genre and this story is one of my all time favorites. I highly recommend you take your time with the story and savor each word. I invested more time reading this book than I typically do, but felt that by being intentional, I enjoyed it much more.
Overall, I gave this book ★★★★ .5 stars. I was just shy of a five star review and the only thing that held me back is that I read The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah and absolutely loved it. It is one of my solid five star reads of 2019. If I compare the two side by side, I prefer The Great Alone. But that is just my opinion. Many people have told me The Nightingale is one of their favorite books.