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BOOK REVIEW: The Nightingale

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is the story of two French sisters, whose father has, to all intents and purposes, abandoned them after the death of their mother.

By Kerre McIvor
I’ve often wondered how brave I would be if my courage was tested. Perhaps I would be lion-hearted if I only had myself to worry about. But if I had children – would the courage of my convictions be sufficient to put them at risk? Kristin Hannah explores this theme in The Nightingale. It’s the story of two French sisters, whose father has, to all intents and purposes, abandoned them after the death of their mother.
Vianne, the eldest, marries her childhood sweetheart and replaces one family for another. Her little sister Isabelle is a rebel, hungry for love and approval, but constantly feels she’s not good enough as she’s rejected by her father and then Vianne. But when WWII breaks out, and Paris is quickly overrun by the Germans, Isabelle goes to live with her sister in the countryside.
In the small town, Isabelle chafes at the presence of the Germans and seems determined to take them on singlehandedly. Vianne, on the other hand, is determined to keep her head down and her child safe, and wait out the war. When her impetuous younger sister heads back to Paris, Vianne is quite willing to believe that Isabelle is going back to the city on a whim, for an assignation with a lover.
However, Isabelle has found a way to fight the Germans and has joined the Resistance, eventually becoming one of the most-hunted Resistance members in France. Isabelle’s bravery and the cruelty of the SS eventually lead Vianne to finding a spirit she never knew she had. But courage has a price and both Isabelle and Vianne pay terribly for their actions.
This is a beautiful novel – I read it in one sitting and was in tears by the end. It may be a novel, but there are so many ordinary women who show extraordinary character when they are tested – not just in past wars, but right now in many conflicts taking place around the globe. I hope I’m never tested but if I am, I would love to have just a fraction of the heart and the courage that these heroines have.

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