Friday, August 7, 2015

The Nightingale

Hannah, K. (2015). The Nightingale. NY: Macmillan Audio

Adult / Audiobook / Historical Fiction / WWII / France

I gave this audiobook 4 out of 5 stars

In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn't believe that the Nazis will invade France...but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne's home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne's sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can...completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women's war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France--a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

I had never really thought about or read about the conditions in the Nazi occupied towns during WWII, and I had certainly never considered the women's perspective of the war: their unique and plentiful sacrifices, the pain, the grief, the fear, the hunger, the violations. I don't know if The Nightingale was fully historically accurate, but the situations worked for me and definitely had me pondering many new aspects of World War II. There were parts of the story that didn't seem logical or pushed the envelope of believability, (particularly involving young Isabelle), but again, this worked for me and only enriched the story. Even when Isabelle's decisions were terrible and her immaturity enraging, I kept listening/reading, ever hopeful that Isabelle would stabilize, step-up for her family, and act sensibly.  Thank goodness none of those things happened in an expected way.

Through author Kristin Hannah's extensive descriptions, I was very easily able to visualize the settings and the details meshed with my own memories and knowledge of France. There was a great deal of heartache, death, and destruction in this book, but despite the tragedies, the framing of the story allowed readers to hang on to hope, in much the same way as the characters hung on to hope.

The character of German Captain Beck made me think about The Book Thief, and how it illustrated that not every Nazi was evil -- Beck struggled with his role as a Nazi and it's easy to forget that those Germans and soldiers who did not commit their allegiance to the Nazi party were treated like an enemy and killed. Beck's character was immensely interesting, as was the relationship he had with Vianne. Hannah did an extraordinary job of creating tensions and quandaries which made it difficult for readers to decide exactly how to feel.

The ending was a bit too perfect to believe; did anyone come out of the war so fortunate? Without revealing spoilers, I will only say that again, despite the limit of believability being pushed, the ending worked for me and I needed it to end the way it did after so many heart wrenching moments. 

Thank you to St Martin's Press, NetGalley, and Ford Audiobook Club for providing me eBook and audiobook copies in exchange for my honest opinion -- the only kind I give. 

Note: I switched between reading and listening to the audiobook, and very much enjoyed the talented narrator, Polly Stone, and how she consistently voiced multiple voices and accents.

Author Kristin Hannah introduces her novel.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: (from her website)
I was born in September 1960 in Southern California and grew up at the beach, making sand castles and playing in the surf. When I was eight years old, my father drove us to Western Washington where we called home.

After working in a trendy advertising agency, I decided to go to law school. "But you're going to be a writer" are the prophetic words I will never forget from my mother. I was in my third-and final-year of law school and my mom was in the hospital, facing the end of her long battle with cancer. I was shocked to discover that she believed I would become a writer. For the next few months, we collaborated on the worst, most clichéd historical romance ever written.
After my mom's death, I packed up all those bits and pieces of paper we'd collected and put them in a box in the back of my closet. I got married and continued practicing law.

Then I found out I was pregnant, but was on bed rest for five months. By the time I'd read every book in the house and started asking my husband for cereal boxes to read, I knew I was a goner. That's when my darling husband reminded me of the book I'd started with my mom. I pulled out the boxes of research material, dusted them off and began writing. By the time my son was born, I'd finished a first draft and found an obsession.

The rejections came, of course, and they stung for a while, but each one really just spurred me to try harder, work more. In 1990, I got "the call," and in that moment, I went from a young mother with a cooler-than-average hobby to a professional writer, and I've never looked back. In all the years between then and now, I have never lost my love of, or my enthusiasm for, telling stories. I am truly blessed to be a wife, a mother, and a writer.

Excerpts, background information, photos, and inspiration for the book can all be found on the author's WEBSITE.  Follow Kristin Hannah on FACEBOOK.

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