Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Five Stars For This Historical Fiction Novel

I recently finished Kristin Hannah's latest novel, The Nightingale. Author of twenty-two novels, Ms Hannah had been a lawyer before turning to a writing career. Many lawyers who write concentrate on criminal and mystery novels. Kristin Hannah stays with stories about human nature, how events make people do things, and about relationships within families and among friends. Hers are 'people' stories.

The Nightingale has stayed in the top ten on the Bestseller List for weeks. This historical fiction novel pulled me in immediately and kept me reading farther into the night than I'd intended. I found myself picking it up when I had a half hour to read now and then. 

The story centers on two sisters in France during the Nazi Occupation of WWII. Vianne is married and mother to Sophie. They live in a small village where her husband, Antoine, is the postman. Isabelle, the younger sister, lives in Paris and, at eighteen, has been expelled from several schools. The two sisters do not get along nor do they have a good relationship with their father who lives in Paris. 

With the occupation of France by the Germans, life becomes increasingly difficult. Vianne and Isabelle argue about what each should do. Isabelle becomes part of the French Resistance while Vianne stays in her village to raise her child and await her husband's return from the army. As the war goes on, both face hardships and heartbreak over and over, as well as great danger. Isabelle's name within the Resistance movement is The Nightingale. She meets danger head-on again and again. Vianne must give a home to a German officer who is at times kind to her but also the enemy. The hardships of war grow greater with each year for both sisters. They meet occasionally and continue to argue, continue to lament their miserable relationship with their father, and continue to mourn a mother lost to them in childhood. 

At the war's end, the sisters finally reconcile, only after each has experienced the horrors of war and living in an occupied country. 

The story is narrated by one of the sisters in 1995 but the reader does not learn which sister it is until the end of the book. The author kept me guessing as to which sister was telling the story, rich in detail and emotion.

A friend who read the book said she found it depressing. Perhaps one could let that be the overwhelming feeling but, for me, I found it to be encouraging as the spirit of the French people and the will to survive comes through. This book is not only about wartime survival but about a relationship between sisters, the loyalty of friends, the fierce love of a parent for her child, and the mending of a broken father-daughter relationship. The writing flows in such a way as to move the reader seamlessly through the story. Ms Hannah is a master storyteller. Critics of The Nightingale cite it as possibly her best book.

I would give it five stars and recommend it, especially if you like historical fiction as much as I do. 

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