Kristen Hannah is one of my favorite authors. I have not read a book of hers that I did not like. This is a historical novel and she wrote in her notes at the end that tried to be as historically accurate as possible.
I gained knowledge from this book, for example I honestly did not realize that France during WWII had surrendered to Germany early on in the war. I don’t know how I missed this but always imagined that they were in the air and on the ground in the fight.
I had read “Returned to Auschwitz” years ago and it left such an indelible mark on me. It was an awful book that told of the horrible conditions from the Nazi’s that I have never forgotten it. Not awful because of the writing, just the horrifying content. This book left the same feeling and for a day I was depressed.
“The Nightengale” spotlights the women of the French Resistance who saved Jewish children and rescued downed airmen to help them back to their country so that they may fly again to fight.
Picture Paris being overrun by the Nazi’s with Nazi flags flying everywhere. The rounding up of Jewish people and the yellow stars having to go on their clothing marking them as Jewish and the atrocities that happened to them.
The book starts out in the year 1995 in Oregon. An elderly woman is telling about her house being for sale and that she will be moving into assisted living. She is leaving a home that she has lived in for over 50 years and her husband has passed away not too long ago but her son is watching over her and he feels it would be better for her to move.
She also talks about a life she once had in France, a life that her son knows nothing about. She left it behind after the war and she and her husband and children moved to America.
The book bounces back and forth from America to France in 1939. A woman has a young daughter and her husband has been mobilized to go into the war. But they will be able to take care of the Germans and the war won’t go on long, he will be back home soon.
But the war doesn’t end soon, and French army was being beaten by the Germans and most of the country surrenders. The little French town that they live in has the Nazi army take it over and ever so slowly it keeps putting stipulations on the French people. Taking the food, taking the art, taking the furniture, learn who the Jews, homosexuals, communists and Freemasons are. Then the Nazi’s would gather up targeted people and put them on trains to go to concentration camps. Radios were confiscated so they would not have contact with the outside world along with valuables and clothes. They had to go through cold winters, and would put on layers of clothing so that they could stay warm. There would not be wood to burn for heat. They had to stand in line for rations of food daily and if you were the last in line you may not get anything. All the while the Nazi’s were eating well, staying warm, taking all the best for themselves and wasting food. The rest were losing weight and becoming gaunt, getting sick and dying.
The book centers on two women, sisters, who were very different but brave by what they went through. Chapter by chapter it would go back and forth between what the sisters were doing during the war. One stayed in the small French town and the other left for Paris to participate in the French Resistance.
By the time we get to 1944 in the book and life is just so destitute, there is hope when you read that the Allies are freeing the concentration camps and the Nazi’s are leaving quickly. This book is so well written I felt that I was living it too. Made me think about the waste of throwing away food and reusing items. It was interesting and depressing at the same time.
So, as I said before, there are two sisters. It has you guessing till the end, who is the elderly woman? Is it one of the sisters, or the daughter or even one of the Jewish children that were saved. That is where you have to read this book to find out.
I read this book in three days and it has nearly 600 pages. It had me captivated and it also made me wish that my parents were alive. I would have had so many questions to ask. My Father was a young man in the army in Italy and my Mother lived in the USA while the war was raging in Europe. My Father passed away 24 years ago and Mother 22 years ago but it would have been an interesting conversation.
If you like history, family love, romance and daring escapes I do recommend this book. War is Hell.