The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah has 23,000 reviews on Amazon and 170,000 on Goodreads, so I’m not exactly the first person to tell you about this book.
But you guys.
If you haven’t read The Nightingale, you totally should.
This was the final book of my most recent round of Tell Me What to Read and it took me forever to get to it because the hold lists were so long and then when it finally came up, I only got about 1/2 way through before my audio copy expired, so I had to wait in the hold lines AGAIN.
Anyway. I finally finished it this week and it was worth all the hold lines.
the nightingale by kristin hannah
Vianne and Isabelle are sisters, but they’ve never been close. They’re far apart in age, and their mother died when they were both pretty young. Their father fought in the first World War and he never really recovered from the experience, pushing both of his daughters away after his wife died.
Vianne has married her childhood sweetheart, Antoine, and they have one daughter (a miracle in a string of miscarriages and stillborns). When war breaks out, Antoine leaves their quiet French village to fight on the front. Left at home, Vianne’s life doesn’t remain peaceful either as their home is taken over by a German captain, food becomes increasingly scarce, and her best friend, who is Jewish, increasingly becomes a target.
Isabelle, who has just turned 18, has spent her life running away from boarding schools and looking for love from both her father and her sister. When the war breaks out, she falls in love with a Resistance fighter, but when he too abandons her, she directs all her energy into the Resistance as well.
Of course, both of them are in impossible situations, where they have to make one awful choice after another, and they have no idea who to trust.
In addition to alternating between their stories, there is also an elderly woman who is returning to Paris from her current home in America to attend a remembrance event. You can assume from the beginning that it is one of the sisters, but you don’t know which one it is, and what that might mean about the other sister – did she die during the war? Is she still alive? Did they ever reconcile?
I loved that Kristin Hannah showed so many different aspects of the war in The Nightingale – life in the countryside and in the cities, Nazis who are decent people and Nazis who are just so evil, the Resistance movement, the concentration camps.
And yet, it didn’t feel like it was trying too hard to pack in every possible angle. Every bit of the story seemed natural to the narrative, with every choice, every new hardship, every new loss seeming almost inevitable as the war progresses.
It’s a heart-breaking story, not just because of those who die, but also because of those that have to live with the ways the war changed them, but it’s also hopeful. I listened to Sarah’s Key a couple of years ago and I found that book just so depressing. This one didn’t leave me with that heavy, dark feeling afterward.
I listened to The Nightingale audiobook and it is fantastically done. The narrators had lovely accents, and it was easy to follow along between the three separate story lines (which isn’t always the case on audio).
Also, if you want more WWII from a woman’s point of view, Code Name Verity reminds me a lot of this one and it is excellent.
I bought this last year and it's been sitting on my bookshelf ever since. I hope to find time to read it this summer. I loved Code Name Verity! I haven't read its sequel yet, but that's another book on my long list of books to read.
Elisabeth McKnight says
loved listening to this on audiobook too!
I loved this book. Even though there wasn't any specific mention of the politics of the time, I kept seeing parallels between then and our current presidential election cycle. It was a powerful, thought-provoking book, for sure.
I just bought it yesterday. After your review, I'm sure I will like it too.
I am always looking for a good book recommendation so I am really excited to find your site! Yay! I was curious how clean this book is? I don't really love reading books with a lot of language or with sex or anything to intense that way.
I would love it if you would give little warnings like that in your reviews. Thanks! 🙂
Because of the setting (WWII), this book is pretty intense. I don't remember much (if any) swearing, but there are a few mild sex scenes, and some fairly disturbing violent episodes. Good luck!
I really enjoyed this book too! Glad you FINALLY got a chance to finish it. I hate stopping midway through a book. Hold lines are the WORST!
Katie Leipprandt says
We must have finished this book at the exact same time! SOOOO good. I'm on a WWII kick this year (Boys in the Boat, All the Light We Cannot See and Bonhoeffer among others) I responded the same way to Sarah's Key – and then for whatever reason I watched the movie and had nightmares about that sweet boy for weeks. Love your blog. 🙂