The Nightingale Review - Danger in Paris
by Kristin Hannah
Published in 2015
This book was recommended to me by my friend Kimberly. The Nightingale was the first book I bought inside those Amazon retail bookstores and was blown away with the setup of the store since the price could change depending on if you were an Amazon Prime member or not. I didn’t even know what this book was going to be about when I purchased it, but I am glad I chose to read because this had me experience every emotion I could think of.
This story follows two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, who live in France in 1939 in the middle of World War II. They both live separate lives at the moment, with Isabelle running away from the school she was in, and Vianne being a schoolteacher and taking care of her daughter while her husband was drafted to fight in the war. Their father sends Isabelle to live with Vianne since he doesn’t want to be responsible for her. France is then invaded by the Germans as the country begins to change as the Nazis start rationing food and spreading propaganda about Jews.
After Vianne’s best friend Rachel gets taken for being a Jew, Vianne decides to not only hide Rachel’s son, but adopt and pretend the child was hers all along. This is terrifying enough, when an SS officer decides that he is going to be housed by Vianne. As Vianne begins notices other neighbors and town folk and even fellow teachers being taken for being Jews, her fear only grows. Despite this fear, she begins an operation to protect the children of those being taken by getting new birth certificates for the children and sending them to the local orphanage where no one will ask questions. Meanwhile, Isabelle decides to join the French Resistance as she is much more outspoken. She begins by distributing anti-Nazi propaganda every time she travels into Paris. She is then recruited to assist in search and rescue missions in order to find downed airmen that are lost in Nazi-occupied France and then bringing them to the British embassy in Spain, which is where she gets the nickname “Nightingale”.
As the Nazis realize what has been occurring, they begin looking for the Nightingale, so Isabelle decides to hide in the cellar at Vianne’s home. The SS Officer living in Vianne’s home realizes that he has been looking all over the place for this Nightingale… except in the residence he is staying in. When he begins frantically looking in the cellar, he is killed by both Isabelle and Vianne. Vianne is furious at Isabelle for putting her in a position that could risk her life and those of her children. Isabelle gets caught and arrested, however her father takes the blame for being the Nightingale and is thus killed. Isabelle gets sent to a concentration camp in Germany.
Vianne is still at home trying to cover up the murder of the previous SS Officer when she is notified that a new SS Officer will be staying at her home. Compared to the previous officer, this new officer is cruel and harsh. During his stay, he rapes Vianne and watches as they are sick and starving, choosing not to share his rations. When the war is finally ended, the Nazis must all leave, leaving Vianne relieved to have her home back. She eventually finds Isabelle after she is released from the concentration camp, but due to the terrible conditions, Isabelle doesn’t live much longer once she returns home. Vianne’s husband also makes it back home only to discover that Vianne is pregnant with the SS Officer’s child. He chooses to accept the child as his own, understanding that while he was experiencing his own horrors so was his family. Later on, Vianne manages to return the children she hid back to their surviving family. Even though she had raised her best friend’s child as her own during the war and didn’t want to let him go, the surviving members of her family ask that he be returned to them, reminding her that with the loss of Jews throughout Europe, it is important that they all come together to heal as a community. Vianne continues her life with her children and her husband, but always makes sure to commemorate Isabelle’s memory and bravery during the war.
Final Rating: 10/10
I can’t even tell you how much I cried while reading this book. I think every 10 minutes my husband turned to look at me while I was reading, I was wiping away tears. The bravery behind Vianne and Isabelle were just absolutely incredible and I was so blown away how they both managed to make such a difference in different ways. Isabelle and Vianne may have been sisters but they were raised separately and grew to have such different lives but the thing they had in common besides blood was their compassion and bravery and the need to do something to help others. Vianne’s focus had been her family and her daughter, but after her best friend was taken, she decided to extend her home to her son and protect him. Even had she done just that, she would have saved at least one life during this terrible time. Even so, she decided to take that further and protect several children when putting them in the orphanage. I thought it really showed her compassion and love as a mother, understanding that had she been given the choice, she would have always tried to protect her children than let them share the same fate.
I also was blown away with Isabelle’s bravery and change during the course of the novel. She began as a rebellious, headstrong young woman whose mouth was always getting her into trouble. This immediately sets her up for trouble when Nazis take over because even one wrong word can get yourself and your family killed. In the beginning she has that invincible attitude that comes with youth until she realizes how dangerous that truly is. She goes to live in Paris just so that the work she did for the resistance wouldn’t be tied back to Vianne and her children and they could at least be safe. Even though this novel is historical fiction, when I did my research I found it was true that women in France were finding and housing fallen airmen and returning them to the British embassy. This not only managed to protect those airmen who would have been immediately killed or sent to a concentration camp, this also allowed more men to be sent knowing that they would most likely find a way to come back home.
Kristin Hannah did such an excellent job with both the characters Isabelle and Vianne. She made them so different from each other but really helped develop their characters throughout the book. Isabelle was always looking for some thrill and excitement, but she changes into someone who wants to protect those she rescues and the loved ones around her. Vianne was someone whose only care was for that of her and her children. She then changes into a compassionate mother figure for all children, making sure to protect each one as if they were her own because she knew if the tables were turned she would hope someone would do the same for her. They both became characters that were almost the opposite of who they were at the beginning. What I love about this book was they didn’t change just to continue the narrative of the story, but were in fact influenced by the factors surrounding them. Living in war-torn France as they witnessed their friends and peers be taken only for the mere fact of being Jews was enough to show them that they had to make a stand in some way otherwise what made them any better than the Nazis tearing families apart?
I would recommend this book to everyone. Even though this was published in 2015, I didn’t get a chance to read until 2018 and this was one of the best books I had read in 2018. Everything about this book was terrific from the stories to the characters to the research that went behind it so that the book could feel as accurate as possible. I felt the same fear as Vianne whenever she had to procure fake birth certificates for the children and I felt the same tension as Isabelle when she was navigating in the dead of night to lead the fallen airmen. Kristin Hannah completely immerses you in this story and makes the reader feel like they are experiencing everything the characters experience. This was my first time reading a book by Kristin Hannah but I am definitely looking forward to reading more because The Nightingale completely blew me away.