A book review on Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale… long story short: it was one of the best books I’ve ever read and a MUST read.
You can imagine my embarrassment when I stood you up on the first book group date… last Thursday. This whole time, for some crazy reason, I’d been thinking I was reviewing the book today and starting the Facebook discussion tonight. My apologies!
One of my girlfriends gave me The Nightingale and told me it was one of the best books she’s ever read. I was slightly skeptical because I’d never heard of Kristin Hannah or the book (how is that possible with about 38,000 five star reviews on Amazon?). At this point in my life when my reading time is definitely less than it used to be I generally go to my favorite authors Elin Hildebrand and Mary Kay Andrews… or people like them, because I just want something fluffy to completely relax with. But this book reminded me that a book doesn’t have to be fluffy for me to lose myself in it.
While I read this book I folded down page after page of things I wanted to jog my memory with. I figured the best way to go through the book with you in my review wasn’t to answer the book club questions in the back but to talk about the things that made me really think or feel throughout the pages. There are definitely spoiler alerts in here and you definitely do not want this story spoiled if you haven’t read it so don’t keep reading until you’ve finished the entire book.
I found a lot of what I noticed in the beginning of the book really forshadowed what would follow in the meat of the book:
(page 23) Vianne and Sophie brought Antoine to the train and the town where he was to report for duty and Vianne said: ” Don’t think about it. Don’t remember what it was like last time when the men limped home, faces burned, missing arms and legs…” It struck me in that sentence that we’ve never seen war like many did in that generations where there was a draft and the majority of men between a certain age left… and many came home very different than they left or not at all. What we see coming out of war now if awful but it’s not as widespread as it was after WWI or WWII. The destruction from war was so widespread into civilian life which is without a doubt the thing that shocked me the most from this book.
(page 39) “Go to bed, Isabelle.” “How can I possibly sleep at a time like this?” He sighed. “You will soon learn that a lot of things are possible.” How many things throughout the story did Isabelle, Vianne and their father end up doing that they may have previously thought were too hard or too difficult for civilians? Also, how many people dreamed that entire towns could get taken over or ravaged? Or that Nazis would burn a concentration camp simply so the people in it couldn’t talk?
(page 42) Isabelle begs to be used to help once all the destruction starts. Her whole life she’s been pushed down and told she’s not important or in the way and she uses her entire adult life to make a difference and prove otherwise.
(page 165) The conversation Vianne has with Mother Superior after she wrote the names of the Jews for Captain Beck shapes the rest of the book. “Don’t think about who they are. Think about who you are and what sacrifices you can live with and what will break you…. the path to righteousness is often dangerous.” The two sisters had very different sacrifices but they each gave deeply and from what they could.
(page 266) Isabelle remembered her mother saying “She is too smart to toss her life to boys.” What an empowering and affirming message for a mother to let her daughter overhear. Isabelle would cause endless trouble but she figured out how to funnel it in a way that was both useful and life-giving to her and others.
(page 337) Sarah was just killed at the border: “Vianne knew Rachel wasn’t asking how to hide in the barn; she was asking how to live after a loss like this, how to pick up one child and let the other go, how to keep breathing after you whisper “good-bye”.” In a matter of seconds Rachel and Ari had to flee and leave Sarah. This killed me… but it’s funny, it didn’t have as much of an impact as the scene when Ari / Daniel is taken from Vianne. I cried and cried at that scene and just pictured Daniel sobbing being taken from the only mother he has ever known to go live in a different country with people he’s never met. I cried at the injustice, that it was more loss for everyone even if the officers said it was for the future good. When the scene flashes forward and Vianne sees Ari again on page 563 it was like the whole book came full circle. There was some good that came out of all the pain and sacrifice.
This book changed the way I thought of WWII. I had no idea the amount of deaths and destruction went so far beyond the concentration camps or the ways ordinary citizens used what they had at that moment to change the situation of France for the better. What a lesson for us now to regard what we can do to sacrifice for things that matter. In other parts of the world this horror goes on regularly and in the US we are amazingly spared from such widespread atrocities as the world endured during those six years. Even if we will never see another war like this it doesn’t mean that we are let off the hook for sacrificing for the things you truly believe matter and that will change the world. I was just talking to the DCF case worker from when we adopted the twins and she said there was a family she just had that accepted five children. I look at people like that, who have their whole lives turned upside down for something good, and want our lives (yours, mine and my family’s) life to be like that. I want us to choose the best option even if it means painful sacrifices. As Mother Superior said “the path to righteousness is often dangerous”.
I was so moved by The Nightingale that I’ve started one of Kristin Hannah’s other books Winter Garden which is also excellent. I’m about 150 pages into it and would highly recommend it. Long story short, I’d give The Nightingale 10 stars if I could. I absolutely loved it!
Come on Facebook at 8:30pm tonight for a discussion about the book. The next book club book will be another popular one that I can’t wait to read: Where the Crawdads Sing. It has 14,000 five star reviews so I’m pretty sure we will love it. Grab your book now because the review will be up on July 18.