More humble and heroic words had never been spoken by the heroine in Kristen Hannah’s latest novel, The Nightingale. Yet, so many seem to do just that – we forget the battle that women fight during times of war. And Hannah so gracefully reminded us that their stories are the most harrowing of all.
World War II took the world by storm, with barely any warning. Rumors sprouted from gossip, whispers of change in the air that nobody wanted to believe, that nobody thought possible. Before preparations could be made, life began to change. Where once there was solitude in day to day life, the scenery quickly began to change all across Europe. Soldiers replaced civilians, tanks and lorries replaced motorcars. Normal conversations on the street turned to food queues with ration cards and friends afraid to make eye contact with one another. Men were called to duty and women stayed home with the children.
We all know the story – how it progresses, the evils and tortures committed, and the tragedies endured – and we all know how it ends. The saddest of truths are the heartbreaks in between. Hannah, however, does a brilliant job encapsulating not only the abuse and torture that the women were left behind to endure, she weaves a magnificent tale of heroism.
Upon picking up this novel, it is near impossible to put down. The reader is immediately drawn into the curiosity and bravery of Isabelle Rossignol and the beautiful innocence of Paris before the war. We are lucky to watch her grow and adapt, save lives and overcome.
And love. Every movement, every decision, every risk – Isabelle did with love. Despite the war, despite the bombs and the guns. The Nazis and corrupt policemen. Despite the hate and anger and fear – there was still love. While men fought for their country and then fought for their lives as prisoners of war, the women were prisoners of a different sort. They fought for their family – for the life they once knew. Prayer and hope floated through the breeze and carried them from one day to the next. And the next. Weeks turned into months, turned into years. Love carried them through. There was a romance in WWII that is almost impossible to put into words, yet Kristen Hannah has done just that – she has captured the most beautiful human emotion on paper.
It is with regret (and a half a box of tissue) that I have turned the last page in this tragic love story. This is a novel that I will not soon forget and I will carry these words with me in the days to come. Though it is but a work of fiction, I believe there are millions of true stories that are equally heartbreaking. It is unfortunate that most of the survivors of this horrific war are no longer around to tell their stories – as I think WWII is one of the most romantic periods in modern history. Strange as that may sound, it’s true. I would give anything to sit down with a real-life nightingale and hear her words, watch her face as she remembers her life gone by. Hold her hand when she gets to the tough parts and wipe her tears as she pictures the face of the man she loved. A love that carried her through the hardest of times, prompted her to do unimaginable things to save her family. A love that was the cruelest at times and the purest of sorts. A love not to be forgotten. No, Nightingale, you will not be forgotten.