What started off as mildly (totally an understatement) obsession for historical fiction set in WWII, after just finishing A God in Ruins (by Kate Atkinson, I gave it a 5/5 by the way, so do check it out), All the Light We Cannot See (by Anthony Doerr, also a 5/5), and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (by Claire North, definitely also a 5/5), I stumble upon this book. Honestly, I’ve been seeing The Nightingale quite a lot of the time last year with a lot of people praising it as one of the best book of 2015, but to be perfectly honest (again), I can’t seem to be bothered to give it a try. There was something that tells me the story was going to be a snoozefest. And then, BOOM, it won the Goodreads Choice Awards 2015 in the Historical Fiction category. I vote for A God in Ruins, and it lost to The Nightingale?? I was furious! So, I decided that I had to see what the book is all about; was the book worth the title that it took from A God in Ruins?
Before I answer the question, let me tell you a little bit about the book. The book mainly tells the story of two sisters that could not have been more same as they are different. We have the boring goody two shoes Vianne, who is left with her daughter in the Nazi-occupied French village, waiting for her husband to return from war, only to have a Nazi officer billeted in her house. The second sister is the rambunctious and irresponsible Isabelle, who seems to not have a care in the world but for herself who joins a resistance army fighting for French freedom. Well, at least that was my initial reaction having read the first few chapters. To know more on the synopsis of the book, do go to its Goodreads page (I’ve post the link at the end of the review).
The more chapters you read, the complex the story gets. Vianne might be boring, but she’s realistic; she knows her battle and she chose it carefully. Isabelle might be hot tempered but she is loyal and she is a fighter. This was a story of the women’s war. This was a war that the women that got left behind had to fight for, far from the watching eyes of the world, far from the watchful eyes of the history. It was complex enough for me to ask myself the question of would I be a Vianne or an Isabelle had I been in their position? Would I bid my time, selecting my war carefully under the watchful eye of an enemy, or would I fought the enemy head-on because I believe in my country’s freedom? I think it’s a question worth asking for, because you’d think biding your time is easier or attacking the enemy head-on is easier, but in a war where you are the ones who are left behind, nothing is ever easy. And the author had grasped that beautifully, it really shook me, thinking that I could easily have been any one of those women in Carriveau.
One thing for sure, the story in this book is very gripping. It’ll keep you at the end of your seat. It’ll leave you wanting to know more. It’ll make you speculate who is this old woman in the beginning of the story? Whose story is she keeping from her son? You can’t put the book down. You want to keep on reading. You are so engage with all the characters, you want to know whether they had survived the war or not. How many books can do that to its reader? Not many, actually. And I am glad I had given this book a try.
One thing that surprises me about this book is even with all its gripping war stories, the terror that it brings, the fear that breathes its own life into the book, underneath it all, there was a romantic side that you can’t missed. I know it’s weird to be saying that a historical fiction story about war is somewhat romantic, but romantic it is when it comes to this book. It’s not just the kind of romanticism of a young and blooming love, but also of a loyal wife waiting for her husband, about a forbidden and unspoken love that blooms amidst the rubble of war, a love for a child and a child to a mother, a love of a father to his daughters, a love for a country, and a love for freedom. I remember a friend said that war, in all its gore and glory, it has a romantic side to it too; now I can understand what my friend means.
So, if my rants above have not been clear enough, I’ll tell you the answer to my question. The Nightingale deserves its win on the Historical Fiction category of the Goodreads Choice Awards 2015, but I would not go as far as saying that The Nightingale was better than A God in Ruins; the latter was still my favourite book, it made me bawled up in tears as I finished the book, you gotta top that experience if you want me to say that a certain book is better than A God in Ruins, but The Nightingale comes second because I did shed a few tears myself at the end of the book, so kudos for that.
Ps. Nice surprise on who actually was the old lady at the beginning of the book, and beautifully written on that part.
Title: The Nightingale
Author: Kristin Hannah
Genre: Adult Fiction, Cultural, Fiction, Historical Fiction, War