The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (440 pages)
I seldom re-read any book, but this is the sparkling exception. The story takes place in World War II Nazi-occupied France and features two dissimilar sisters, born into privilege but emotionally scarred by unavoidable abandonment. Firstborn Vianne, married, mother of a young daughter, sees her husband off to the front lines and faces the terror of coping alone, while Isabelle, young, impulsive, and rebellious, finds her true purpose midst the peril and intrigue of the French Resistance. Unbeknownst to each other, and each in her opposite style, they rise above the horrors to reach heroic heights.
It’s called historical fiction but I’m quite sure many such women existed, and that not surprisingly their stories have never been told. After all, what do women know about war? Quite a lot it turns out, like how to hold the fort at home while fending off the invaders and disrupting their plans by any means available. A lifelong renegade myself, I related to Isabelle’s daredevil ways a lot, but I loved Vianne for having her back just like my sister has always had mine.
And then there’s the writing. Hannah’s gift surpasses superlative. Despite her depiction of the heinous events, she brings forth moments of human magnificence in the face of unspeakable brutality. I gobbled up every word like a starving child in a chocolate shop, while savouring the flavour of every well-turned phrase: “Tomorrow felt as ephemeral as a kiss in the dark” and “Those words were lost, turned into ghosts that would drift away, unsaid.” As a writer, Hannah’s ability to evoke and manipulate emotions is pure wizardry. As a reader turning the final pages, I fell helplessly under her spell, blubbering my way across the city on a streetcar, dreading the end. Not just because of the literary brilliance, but because of the sadness I felt bidding adieu to what felt like beloved friends. It doesn’t get any better than that.
The Bottom Line: 5/5 Brookie Stars
Sometime in the future, perhaps after the movie debuts, I may even read this book an unprecedented third time, such is my admiration for this masterpiece.
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Laura Vincent recently settled into retirement, doing a bit of writing, a lot of service and smelling the roses along the way. A plan is afoot to explore Europe on a Eurail Pass – one last great hurrah so to speak.
Favourite book: The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
Favourite brunch spot: Rocco Restaurant & Bar
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