I realise that I’m late to this book party, but I finished THE NIGHTINGALE this morning, and it’s taken me this long to collect my thoughts and feelings about it. The last book that touched me so deeply was ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, another magically novel set during World War II.
My mom lent me her copy, and urged me to read it, she was dying to talk about the book with someone. Now I understand why.
Hannah covers so much ground in this novel, not only historical – which she does with detail and intimacy – but also emotional. At its heart, this novel is about sisterhood, and doesn’t shy away from the dark and light intensity of such a bond. (I’m reminded of one of my favourite novels, THE BLIND ASSASSIN, which also examines sisterhood in a way that honours both the bitter and the sweet.)
Essentially, we have the story of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, and their experiences of war in German-occupied France. It gives voice to the underrepresented contributions of women to the French resistance, as well as the war effort, and highlights the fact that many battles were being fought not only at the front, but in places that were thought of as “safe,” in the towns and homes left behind.
Tears kept slipping down my cheeks for the last 50 pages. I don’t know why I am surprised. This is a book about wartime, and so, destined to be devastating. As I neared the end of the 500+ page novel, I was so invested in the characters, they had been through so much, I wanted them to each have a happy ending. When I finished the last page, I had to remind myself again, this is a book about wartime, these things happened, and there wasn’t a happy ending for everyone, maybe not for anyone who had survived and could remember.
What can I say? I learned so much reading this book, and that often made me angry, because I thought to myself, I should know this already, I should have been told, why wasn’t I told? Then my anger cooled to admiration for the sisters, and their agency. I was left thinking, sometimes the best thing in the world is to be underestimated, to be thought of as small, because then you can slip by unnnoticed, and change things.
Okay, I’m going to have some tea and chocolate now, and count every gorgeous blessing in my life.
If you’ve read the book, I would love to know your impressions, too.
A :-) xo