‘Ask for help when you need it, and give help when you can. I think that is how we serve God–and each other and ourselves–in times as dark as these.'” -THE NIGHTINGALE
THE NIGHTINGALE follows two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, as they struggle to survive in Nazi-invaded France. Isabelle is young and reckless, and when she gets kicked out of school (again), she is sent to live with Vianne and Vianne’s young daughter, Sophie. Vianne’s husband has been sent to war, and a young Nazi takes up residence with them. Vianne is determined to remain inconspicuous and keep her daughter safe until the war ends. But when Isabelle makes her disdain for the Nazis very clear, Vianne fears Isabelle will put all of them at risk. Isabelle leaves for Paris and becomes the elusive Nightingale, helping downed airmen escape over the Pyrenees. Meanwhile, Vianne lives life under Nazi rule and combats evil in her own way while simultaneously striving to protect Sophie.
This book takes place throughout the entirety of World War II, but it also takes place in the 1990s. In the present-day story, an elderly woman receives an invitation to an event in France honoring the Nightingale. The reader doesn’t learn who this woman is until the end. I loved the dual narrative and went back and forth in my mind trying to determine who the elderly woman was.
Y’all know I love unsung war heroes, and that’s exactly who Vianne and Isabelle are. At the start of the war, their differences have caused an estranged relationship, and that relationship’s evolution was so heartwarming. Both women are strong and authentic, and it was interesting to see how their contrasting personalities led them to resist the Nazis in such different ways. Their journey was an emotional one which left me in tears many (many, many…) times throughout the story.
Though THE NIGHTINGALE has become one of my favorite books, it was a difficult and emotionally exhausting read. I think this was because it focused on parts of the war we often forget. When we think of war, we think of young soldiers fighting and dying for their countries. While this is important, we forget about the other horrors. We forget about the families ripped apart, women sexually assaulted by soldiers, meager rations, constant terror, and daily shootings in the streets for the simplest infractions. The war caused physical, emotional, and mental damages for everyone involved, not just soldiers. This story brought all these issues to light in a beautiful, poignant, and impactful way. The emotional journey was powerful and necessary.
I recommend THE NIGHTINGALE to every single adult reader, no matter who you are or what books you typically read. This stunning, powerful story will make you take a closer look at your own life, at those affected by World War II, and will stay with you long after the last chapter.
If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: in love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.” -THE NIGHTINGALE