I don’t know if it is my general busy-ness right now or one of those pockets in life sometimes experienced; times when books sit on the literary burner for a spell, simmering. Unlike many folks, summer is not generally a season where I have time for much reading. I’m often found outside pulling weeds, hunting caterpillars, photographing flower petals or visiting gardens and garden centers, botanical gardens and arboretums. My personal reading well has run dry, which will soon become a challenge as our book group will soon be discussing “The Goldfinch” and I, have managed a mere 46 pages.
I have, however, recently finished an audio book that kept my attention and had me riding around the block in my car a few more times for just one more chapter.
“The Nightingale”, by Kristin Hannah, begins on the west coast, 1995. An elderly woman, whose voice is heard periodically in the story, will be moving into a senior living with the help of her son. She has a recurrence of cancer for which nothing more can be done. She harbors a secret.
We then meet Vianne, whose life is somewhat idyllic on the family farm about a mile outside of the French town of Carriveau. Her husband, Antoine, is quickly drafted into the French army as rumors of a German invasion spread. No one thinks the Germans will invade.
Isabelle, 18 and headstrong, has been dismissed from her current school. It is one of many schools where she was invited to leave. Isabelle returns home to her father, Julien, in Paris. He promptly sends her packing to her sister, Vianne. This is something he has done to Isabelle all her life. Isabelle learns quickly and first hand that, indeed, the Germans will stop at nothing and do invade France.
A German captain is soon billeted in Vianne’s home. She can either allow this to happen, or be thrown out with her young daughter, Sophie. When Isabelle arrives, a tenuous situation becomes even more precarious for Isabelle’s temper and defiance threaten the household’s safety. Isabelle soon leaves, compelled to do something about France’s occupation. She joins the French Resistance, eventually becoming the infamous Nightingale as she leads downed British and American pilots over the Pyrenees. Vianne is left to cope with the horrors of the Nazis in her village, coping as best she can, starving, witnessing the rounding up of Jews, including her best friend, leaving her baby boy, Ari, for Vianne to raise; a crime to the Nazis.
This is the story of resilience. It is of the plight of French women in World War II and of their often unsung wartime efforts. It is also the story of sisters, complicated and often volatile, but full of love and endurance. It is a historical journey of the horrors of war in France, but, I think could also be applied to any war. It is about courage; courage of different kinds, for Isabelle’s is of outward resistance and action, while Vianne’s is one of protector and hidden defiance.
There are many hard scenes in “The Nightingale”, especially those in concentration camps and what women do to save their children. In spite of this, I encourage you to read Kristin Hannah’s latest book, even if it means while driving your car.