Book Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah


Title: The Nightingale

Author: Kristin Hannah

Published: 2015

Pages: 440

Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: Book borrowed from the library

My rating: 5/5


In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.
Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real–and deadly–consequences.
With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah takes her talented pen to the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.


I remember reading The Diary of Anne Frank vaguely from back in middle school. Even though this is a work of fiction, Hannah has painted a haunting image of the vicious reality of the time of the Holocaust – both inside and outside the camps. Knowing the history of World War II, the story became more painful both with what I have read in history books and with the two narrations of the sisters. After I completed it (the last 2/3 in one day, I couldn’t put it down), I had to go for a walk, it was that powerful – right up until the end.

The most I feel that we hear about wars comes from the battlelines and/or the male perspective. Or if it does take on the female perspective, there are nurses or aids (nothing wrong with that at all!). I appreciated these views of Vianne and Isabelle, 2 sisters that could not be more different when we started but have the same fight in them when it comes down to doing what is right – real powerhouse heroines at a time where they were overlooked and not appreciated for their talents.

I reflected a lot about what we do for the ones we love. Almost every page was filled with sacrifice and caring for others so selflessly, especially after knowing we have made life-altering mistakes. The symbol of the Nightingale is much bigger than Isabelle’s code name. It’s a movement, an aspiration, working on what is natural day and night yet also risky. As much as Vianne disapproved of Isabelle’s vivacity, she ends up being her own kind of Nightingale as she saves 19 Jewish children in a humbling manner. Isabel wanted to be remembered as a heroine, Vianne a mother who’d do anything for her own children and children of Jews who were on the list. 

Learning that it’s never too late to tell/show someone you love them was an overarching theme. So many times that the characters wished they told each other how they feel for them and fortunately were able to do so when it mannered the most. War, death, and danger can put some things into perspective.

This novel will sure stay with me for some time as it was raw and felt more real than I could’ve imagined. 

Read The Nightingale if you like the themes of:

  • World War II/The Holocaust
  • Women empowered
  • Sisters/Family

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