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Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pain. Hope. Anguish. Desire.
‘The Nightingale’ by Kristin Hannah sweeps you through a gamut of emotions across a broad canvas of war-torn country with tales of courage, valour, despair and fear.
The novel tells the story of two sisters, Isabelle and Vianne whose lives are torn apart with the incoming army of Nazis who take over France and their quiet, routine lives. It is a story of longing and torture, fortitude and determination and ultimately a triumphant survival of the hope and desire to live.
How they endure and exist. How they fight and be defiant. How they suffer and emerge victorious. It is a tale which leaves no emotional stone unturned.
The book begins gently. An elderly unnamed woman suffering from cancer and whose house goes on sale, steps into her attic to search for some hidden memories.
And the saga commences. From the second chapter onwards, into the past (August 1939, France), the story, while documenting the horrors of the war, narrates tales of the strong, courageous women who were a major part of French Resistance during World War II.
From the first page of the story, Isabelle is what she is. Fiery. Temperamental. Stubborn. Born to be a rebel. Her first meet with Madam Babineou is frightening for its fearlessness– a tryst into the unknown, a journey into danger. But she knew no other way. It seemed natural for her to be a part of the resistance and in a daredevil and courageous manner aid and guide the crossing of downed allied airmen into safety across the Pyrenees.
Vianne, the timid, the follower is the one who evolves as she is faced with terrible choices with Nazi officers residing in her home. Silently, bravely, she strides ahead and makes momentous decisions that only a mother would make. For Life. For Safety.
Panic and terror is there on every page of the book. When German soldiers first march into Carriveau, fear leaps out from the pages and then continues through all the experiences and escapades of the sisters hanging like a shadow for eternity.
General Beck’s, the Nazi officer, moving into Vianne’s home inspires horror and dread. Yet strangely the relationship, which unfolds is actually a conflict of values, of right and wrong, of yearning and righteousness, of wanting and hating. But at the end, the mother wins over when the crucial moment arrives.
‘The Nightingale’ pays homage to the bravery of women who were a part of the resistance in France. Their determination and courage -the untold and unsung tales of women fighting the war. The characters are based on true-to-life people. Isabelle-a Belgian woman who created an escape route for downed airmen and Vianne- unnamed heroines of the war who saved Jewish children.
‘Men tell stories. Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions in history books. We did what we had to during the war, and when is was over, we packed the pieces and started our lives over.’ (page 436)
The book is breathtaking and haunting. Each character’s thoughts are reflections on war. War that had ruined all- physical, mental, emotional, financial. Creating hate and distrust. Leaving no scope for love and forgiveness. Cause the future was unknown… the future was dark.
But love has to be stronger than hate, or there is no future for us. (Page 410).
As Kristin Hannah says, “In truth I did everything I could not to write this novel…but stories were impossible to ignore”.
As she rightfully and profoundly says: In love we find out who we want to be, in war we find out who we are.
A communications professional, passionately interested in books and a writer at heart.
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