I loved this book so much that I want one lucky reader to get a free copy! Read on for my review and how you can enter to win.
This was quite a departure for Hannah, who typically writes really good stories about contemporary women’s lives. This time she starts out that way, but quickly goes back in time to 1939 France as the war is getting underway.
Sisters Isabelle and Viann have lost their mother, and their father, damaged from World War I, can’t deal with his loss and his daughters so he sends them away. Isabelle is rebellious and gets kicked out of one boarding school after another, until she’s sent to live with her older sister Viann and her husband. Things don’t work out there and the sisters part ways. But when Viann’s husband goes off to war, eighteen year old Isabelle is sent back to stay with her sister again.
Isabelle wants to be involved in the war effort, but not in a typical-of-the-time way of rolling bandages. When she meets Gäetan, a partisan rebel, she falls in love and wants to go off with him to fight, but he sneaks away, leaving her angry, frustrated and heartbroken. As the Nazis move in to France, the country is divided in two, the Nazi occupied territory, and the Free Zone under Vichy government. The sisters’ small town is taken over by Nazis, and one is billeted in their home.
Isabelle joins the Resistance movement at great personal risk. Her exploits become legendary as eventually she leads downed British and American airmen out of France, walking them across the mountains into Spain and freedom. She becomes known as the Nightingale.
Meanwhile, back at home, Viann’s best friend Rachel is Jewish, and we all know what happens there. She begs Viann to take her baby boy, and as dangerous as it is, Viann acquiesces. Then another Jewish friend is being taken away, and leaves her son as well. Viann knows she can’t keep another Jewish child, so she approaches the Mother Superior at the local convent orphanage, and they take the child. They decide there will be more Jewish children to be saved, and eventually Viann saves several more.
The story moves occasionally back to contemporary times, when one of the sisters is being moved to a nursing home by her son, a doctor, who knows nothing of his mother and her sister’s past – and, in a brilliant stroke on Hannah’s part, we don’t know which sister she is.
This was a completely mesmerizing story, a female side of the war that isn’t often explored. I was totally immersed in their world, and often brought to tears. It is a difficult subject, and the brutality and violence is not whitewashed at all, but is necessary to the story. I have read a lot of Holocaust fiction and this was one of the more interesting, unusual and compelling books on the subject. This strong, well written feminist historical fiction is simply not to be missed. It is sure to make my favorite list for 2015.
To win your own copy, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “WIN NIGHTINGALE” as the subject.
You must include your snail mail address in your email.
All entries must be received by February 20, 2015. One (1) name will be drawn from all qualified entries and notified via email. This contest is open to all adults over 18 years of age in the United States only. Your book will be sent by the publisher, St. Martins Press.
One entry per email address. Subscribers to the monthly newsletter earn an extra entry into every contest. Follow this blog to earn another entry into every contest. Winners may win only one time per year (365 days) for contests with prizes of more than one book. Your email address will not be shared or sold to anyone.
1/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch
THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah. St. Martin’s Press (February 3, 2015). ISBN 978-0312577223. 448p.