Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

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A powerful, emotional story, and an epically unforgettable read

5 stars

I don’t even know where to begin with this review. And honestly I don’t want to say too much about the book. It’s one of those stories that completely captivates you, holds you hostage and makes you feel everything, leaving you a withered husk of a person at the end not too sure what to do with yourself. It’s enthralling and stunningly emotional, but oh God, it hurts! It’s hard to read to read at times, but it’s an experience, not just a book, and I’m so glad that I got to feel everything that I did.

The Nightingale a heartwrenching, stunningly emotional story of two sisters living in France during World War II – Vianne, a married wife and mother, and Isabelle a feisty, impetuous teenager – and their stories fascinated and enthralled me. Vianne’s husband is sent off to fight in the early days of the war leaving her alone to care for their daughter and survive the German invasion, and rebellious Isabelle’s early experience with the violence and brutality of the enemy change her forever, leading her down a very different path. They made me laugh, cry and fall in love, and my heart ached with them and all that they went through.

“In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”

We all know about WWII, the atrocities committed and the hardship of the people living through it. But while reading this book, I feel like I lived it with them. The confusion, the fear, the horror, the grief and the loss. I felt it all. But I also felt the beauty – the loyalty of community, the love of family and friends, and the moments of wonder and triumph of good, brave people living through something unimaginably horrific.

“It’s better to be bold than meek … if you jump off a cliff at least you’ll fly before you fall.”

This book is filled with moments that took my breath away. I cheered for these characters, I longed for something better for them, and my heart shattered over and over again at all that they had to endure. The way the story is written allows you to see so many sides to war and how it impacts people, and there were parts of this story that made me a sobbing mess, but it was worth it for the experience that is this book. It’s amazing what ordinary people are capable of, and the strength of these women stunned me over and over again.

“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 it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over.”

There is romance, but it’s not the main focus. It’s a part of Vianne and Isabelle’s lives, but the war impacts everything, even love, and seeing that and feeling it along with them adds to the beauty, realism and heartache of the story.

He stood up slowly and took her in his arms. She wanted to bottle how safe she felt in this moment, so she could drink of it later when loneliness and fear left her parched…
“I love you,” he said against her lips.
“I love you, too,” she said but the words that always seemed so big felt small now. What was love when put up against war.

The book finishes well, providing all the closure we want to see. Though I will say that I read the final chapters of this book with tears streaming down my face. And when it was over I was left completely knocked over and exhausted by all that I had just been through with these characters.

This is an epically powerful story, and one that I know will stay with me for a very long time.

I know now what matters, and it is not what I lost. It is my memories. Wounds heal. Love last. We remain.

5 stars.


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