The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah (2015)
The Nightingale is the story of two French sisters who, each in her own way, survive the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. The sisters are 10 years apart in age, and are motherless with a cold father who was a changed man after returning from World War I.
Vianne, the older sister, married young to the love of her life. Her younger sister, Isabelle, was impetuous, and had been expelled from several boarding schools before the War began. After Vianne’s husband goes off to war, Vianne is left at the family home with their young daughter. Isabelle’s childhood heroine was Edith Cavell, who was executed in World War I. Isabelle wants to follow in Cavell’s footsteps and joins a Resistance group, leading downed British and American soldiers cross the Pyrenees from France into Spain. Her code name is The Nightingale, which also happens to be the English translation of their family surname ~ Rossignol.
This novel focuses on the lives of the women during the war and the sacrifices they were forced to make while their fathers, husbands and brothers were fighting. The novel begins in 1939, just before Nazi occupation. As France is forced into War, the Nazis begin rationing food and occupying homes. A young German officer requisitions her home, although he is kind to Vianne and her daughter. One day Vianne is asked to provide the names of the Jews in her town. Believing that it is simply a list of names, she complies, giving up the name of her best friend and neighbor, Rachel. Later, the Nazis begin rounding up all the Jews and communists. Rachel is taken away, but Vianne takes her young son to raise as her own.
Later a brutal SS officer commanders her home and brutally rapes her. Meanwhile, Isabelle is risking her life in the Resistance. She acquires false papers and becomes known as Juliette Gervaise. She doesn’t fully understand the risk she is taking until after she is capture. She is ultimately sent to a German concentration camp, where her mantra become “Stay alive.”
This book gives the horrors of war and captures the terror of the citizens of France. It is one of the best novels of the Holocaust that I have read in a long time.
Read: February 14, 2016