“In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.” –The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.
Although days have passed since I closed this book, I still can’t stop thinking about it.
It is a war time memoir of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, about the events, love, hate, life and death, from 1939 to the end of World War II. The story is told through flashback in 1995, with Vianne reflecting upon those harrowing years living under Nazi occupation.
“In war we find out who we are.” Indeed, some French people became “collaborators”, helping Nazi to round up and deport Jewish people.
Both sisters had stood the ordeal of the war. They are vastly different in personality, yet both are brave in their own way and both have suffered excruciatingly gut-wrenching experiences at the hands of their Nazi occupants.
Isabelle, code named the Nightingale, chose the dangerous task of shepherding crashed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees Mountains to Spain, saving over 117 men. The seemingly weak Vianne risks her life to protect her own children and those of her Jewish neighbors.
The climax of Vianne’s greatest sacrifice comes when she allows herself to be raped by the hated German soldier who billets at her house in exchange for the promise that he would not harm her children.
On this, Isabelle said, “What I learned in the camps, …They couldn’t touch my heart. They couldn’t change who I was inside. My body, they broke that in the first days, but not my heart… Whatever he did, it was to your body, but your body will heal…”
The next great sacrifice comes when Julien, their father, learns that Isabelle was captured and tortured. The Nazis tried to make her reveal the identity of Nightingale. Julien turned himself in as Nightingale so that his daughter could be released. For this, he was summarily executed.
Many words rush to mind when I try to grasp the theme of this book — courage, strength, sacrifice, bravery, endurance, motherly love. But none of these words are powerful enough to describe these extraordinary, unforgettable people.
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