The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I've loved all of Kristin Hannah's books. The ones I've read have been contemporary fiction. This is the first historical fiction I've read by her. To be honest, I found it difficult to connect for the first bit of the book. The book begins the 1990's as an unidentified elderly woman is preparing to move into assisted living. She climbs the stairs of her home and opens an old trunk before her son finds her. At this point, the flashback begins.
The next part has two protagonists, Vianne, the older sister, and Isabelle, impetuous, impulsive, and fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants sister. Vianne is married in a country house in France. Isabelle is ten years younger at 18 and has just been expelled from another finishing school. The year is 1939. Hitler has declared war and begun the German march across Europe. This part of the story covers the whole of France under seige until 1945. The first portion is building the story and the setting, developing the characters and establishing personalities.
Cut back to the more recent day of the unidentified woman moving into her assisted living home and settling in. She receives and invitation to Paris to be a recipient or represent a recipient of one who was a resister during WWII. It upsets her to return to the past. And then we return to the story of the past.
The reader is never completely certain which sister is the old woman until the very end. The story brings another perspective of the citizens of France during Occupation. One joined the active resistance. The other lived in her home while German soldiers requisitioned it, allowing her to stay. It's not a difficult stretch to know which sister is which at this point. Both sisters, although separated most of the war, experience harrowing and horrific lives. Both rise to the occasion in their own way.
Hannah keeps true to her talents which is connecting the reader to her characters so completely that I forgot that there was other other conflict of the old woman deciding whether or not to go to the reunion. By the end, I almost didn't care which sister was the old woman, if,indeed, it was one of the sisters. But I did. In the end, I really did care. I was moved greatly by the sacrifices both women and the peripheral characters made. I loved them as if they were my own relatives.