The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is a period piece begins pre-WWII in a German-occupied France. I appreciated the unique perspective of WWII that deviates from classic depictions of concentration camps and Nazis. The novel follows the lives of two starkly contrasting sisters, Isabelle and Vianne. Isabelle plays an irresponsible, flagrant anarchist, while Vianne is concerned with maintaining the status quo for her family’s survival. The story shows the trying turmoil civilians were forced to endure as conditions under Nazi Germany worsened. Although a slow start, the book demonstrates relatable character development and you end up developing strong emotional connections to both protagonists. Here are a few of my favourite passages from the piece:
‘I think, as this war goes on, we will all have to look more deeply. These questions are not about them, but about us.’
Vianne felt tears sting her eyes. ‘I don’t know what to do anymore. Antoine always took care of everything. The Wehrmacht and the Gestapo are more than I can handle.’
‘Don’t think about who they are. Think about who you are and what sacrifices you can live with and what will break you.”
‘You’re not alone, and you’re not the one in charge,’ Mother said gently. ‘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’
‘Whatever else she was or wasn’t, whatever her failings, she intended to be a good woman.’
‘Isabelle seems unbreakable. She has a steel exterior, but it protects a candyfloss heart. Don’t hurt her, that’s what I’m saying. If you don’t love her –‘
Vianne studied him. ‘Does she know?’
‘I hope not.’
Vianna would not have understood that answer a year ago. She wouldn’t have understood how dark a side love could have, how hiding it was the kindest thing you could do sometimes.
For the first time, Gaetan smiled and Vianne understood how this scrawny, sharp-featured man in his beggar’s clothes had swept Isabelle off her feet. He had the kind of simle that inhabited every part of his face – his eyes, his cheeks; there was even a dimple. I wear my heart on my sleeve, that smile said, and no woman could be unmoved by such transparency.
‘There can’t be an us, Iz. Not now. Thats’ what I’ve been trying to tell you from the beginning.’
‘If I promise to let it go, will you answer one question truthfully?’
‘One. And then I’ll go to sleep. I promise.’
‘If we weren’t here – hiding in a safe house – if the world weren’t ripping itself apart, if this was just an ordinary world, would you want there to be an us, Gaetan?’
She saw how his face crumpled, how pain exposed his love.
‘It doesn’t matter, don’t you see that?’
‘It’s the only thing that matters, Gaetan.’
She saw love in his eyes. What did words matter after that?
She was wiser than she’d been before. Now she knew how fragile life and love were. Maybe she would love him for only this day, or maybe for only the next week, or maybe until she was an old, old woman. Maybe he would be the love of her life…or her love for the duration of the this war…or maybe he would only be her first love. All she really knew was that in this terrible, frightening world, she had stumbled into something unexpected.
And she would not let it go again.
On spending time with the person you’re falling in love with: ‘She repeatedly thought remember this over the smallest of details.’
‘I’ll find you,’ he said quietly. ‘Maybe I’ll come to Paris for a night and we’ll sneak into the cinema and boo at the newsreel and walk through the Rodin Gardens.’
‘Like lovers,’ she said, trying to smile. It was what they always said to each other, this dream shared of a life that seemed impossible to remember and unlikely to reoccur.
He touched her face with a gentleness that brought tears to her eyes. “Like lovers.”
On being tortured in concentration camps: ‘It doesn’t hurt, it’s just my body. They can’t touch my soul.’
It was the beginning and end of everything, the foundation and the ceiling and the air in between. It didn’t matter that she was broken and ugly and sick. He loved her and she loved him. All her life she had waited – longed for – people to love her, but now she saw what really mattered. She had known love, been blessed by it.