the nightingale book review

the nightingale book review

The Nightingale Book Review

1. Introduction

The Nightingale is a historical fiction novel written by Kristin Hannah. The story is told by a middle-aged woman named Anna in the future and her experiences during the Nazi occupation of France in World War II. In the beginning of the story, it is mentioned that Anna’s sister has passed away, and while the reason is not explicitly stated, it’s understood that her sister was mentioned in a brief paragraph several chapters from the end. Anna and her sister have a very complicated and estranged relationship, so her death brings up a lot of unresolved trauma related to her experiences in the war. And while it hasn’t been specifically stated yet, it seems that Anna’s experiences are being told to confirm the bravery of the collective women who worked with the resistance, through her own struggles and failures to come to terms with it all. This is a very complex, multi-character story, and it can be a little hard to follow, so this summary will follow the journey of the two sisters primarily and the impacts on their lives.

2. Plot Summary

At the beginning of The Nightingale, the author, Kristen Hannah, states that in love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are. This book tells a story of love and war, two sisters who do not see eye to eye on the ideology of what that is. Vianne, the older sister, experienced the first war, while Isabelle, the younger sister, experienced the beginning of a romantic journey that would soon be taken over by the Second World War. The two sisters were complete opposites, and they will learn that it is survival of what war truly is, that will test their strengths, bonds, and beliefs. The story begins with an old woman, one of the sisters, reflecting on the past and the journey that led her to who she is today. She is nearing the end of her life and is leaving a key to her past for her son. Isabelle was 18 years of age and had just been kicked out of yet another boarding school. Her father instructed her that her troublesome behavior is not something he liked, but it was soon revealed that Isabelle was an insulting reminder of the man who walked out on them when she was just a child. He made arrangements with his daughter that he would send her to live with her sister in the country. Vianne was content with her life and did not want to put up with a troublesome sister, but she reluctantly agreed to let Isabelle stay until she could figure something else out for herself. This was the first time the two sisters had been together since their mother passed away when Isabelle was barely old enough to remember what it was like, a life before war.

3. Character Analysis

Her sister Isabelle is impulsive, short-tempered, and an irresponsible but highly independent young girl when war begins. Initially rebellious from Vianne with a deep hatred for the Germans, she copies Vianne’s act of sheltering the Luftwaffe pilot. Isabelle seizes the opportunity to rebel and make a difference and join the war effort by running away to join her father’s close friend and member of the French resistance. When he is killed, Isabelle is devastated and seeks revenge by distributing pamphlets in a small village. She is caught and arrested, returning to Vianne after being released later that year. Sibling rivalry the two grow closer. Isabelle continues to mature, and when Vianne learns of her own hasty actions and the destruction she caused, she forgives her sister, glad that she did not hang for her actions.

Vianne Rossignol appears mature and aloof, but as the story unfolds, her character is developed as patriotic, empathetic, and at times rebellious. She is a good mother who was one of four children. Her father, the village school teacher, was imprisoned, and though her mother wished to leave the village after the fall of Paris, she gifts content Vianne with a Nightingale pendant and tells her to be brave and to think of others when the time comes. The Rossignol family are removed from their home and move in with a friend in a village a few kilometers away. As the German invasion worsens, the mother of three is forced to shelter two German captains in exchange for rations.

4. Themes and Messages

The Nightingale is rich with messages and themes, some more obvious than others. The book offers an anti-war message and reflects the damage that war causes to the individual and community. In the book, war is represented by the Germans. The occupation of France by the Germans during the Second World War provides a backdrop for the novel. The two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, and the other central characters in Carr’s novel confront the invading German army and come to their own individual understandings of war and why it is necessary to fight against tyranny. War and its effects are shown through the different reactions of the sisters and the people they encounter. Vianne and Isabelle have different views on the war. Vianne tries to carry on with life as best she can in an occupied France, doing her best to keep her head down and stay out of trouble. She comes to accept the German soldiers billeted in her home and shows some sympathy for them, this is her way of coping with the situation. On the other hand, Isabelle is defiant and headstrong, she joins the French resistance and causes as much trouble as she can for the Germans, in particular the local commander in the town of Carriveau. It’s through these two women’s actions that we see the effects of war on the community near the end of the novel. This is communicated to the reader when Carr inserts the extract of the poet Friedrich Hölderlin. Hölderlin is an exile from his childhood home of France and is nostalgic for his adolescence spent near the Rhine. The German invasion of France during the Second World War has denied people of the freedom that they once had, changing the views of the nation and society for the worse, the effects of this occupation are long lasting. This is shown for the characters found in The Nightingale with Vianne who is tested when Isabelle is staying with her and three RAF pilots come asking for help. Vianne turns them away and this prompts Isabelle to ask her when did she stop caring? This moment and the event between the two sisters leads Vianne to join the French Resistance in her own way, helping to free a downed RAF airman when she realizes that she cares more than she thought.

5. Conclusion

There’s no doubt that The Nightingale includes universal themes that are relevant for people of all ages. Though a work of fiction, it operates like a strong reflection on life in a time of crisis. Drawing on people from a range of age groups, I have been told countless times by many that they just couldn’t put it down. Though this text can easily be incorporated into a middle or high school curriculum, I can see how it could be very beneficial to many “older” adults. Its exploration of the actions of a generation faced with the repercussions of WWII is technique for helping one to understand how they have come to be where they are at this point in time. Through a range of ages, Hannah shows a never before seen portrayal of women and their efforts during the war. This alone can provide an understanding that wasn’t possible without the aid of fiction. The Nightingale can serve as a teaching tool helping others to understand the war generation of their own parents. At the same time providing a connection for those currently faced with the challenge of an elderly parent and a role as caregiver. And last but not least, it’s a page-turner. There are a multitude of adults who simply enjoy a good read, who might not ever set foot in a history class. This novel shows that a seemingly painful discussion of history can blend beautifully with an intriguing tale.

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