In war we find out who we are.
In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn't believe that the Nazis will invade France … but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne's home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.
Vianne's sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can … completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.
With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women's war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France--a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.
Why I liked it: In The Nightingale most of the chapters alternate between two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, whose experiences during the war are equally interesting. Interspersed with in the third person narratives are a few chapters written in first person. It is not clear which sister is speaking in those chapters until the very end of the novel.
Classroom application: The novel would be appropriate for upper high school. It includes violence and some sexual violence. The novel could be paired with a unit on WWII or the Holocaust in a history course, or used as an option for literature circles or book clubs focused on the Holocaust.
Both sisters take heroic action during the war, though in very different ways. Isabelle helps downed RAF airmen escape France while Vianne helps to hide Jewish children. Their father also takes part in the resistance by forging identity paperwork. Students could research the efforts of partisan groups during the war to fight against the Nazis and to rescue Jews.
The novel portrays the difficulties of everyday life in occupied territory as well as the experience of being held in a concentration camp as a political prisoner. Both of these aspects of the book could be supplemented with primary source documents. There are a few scenes where Isabelle is tortured for information similar to the main characters in Code Name Verity (also set during WWII) and The Orphan Master's Son (set in North Korea). Students could research the Geneva Convention and its rules about the treatment of political prisoners and also examine the US's use of torture to obtain information.
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