Emily Glover 2017-02-03 08:58:55
The Nightingale Kristin Hannah’s historical fiction novel The Nightingale shows that everyone fights in a war, even those left at home. Hannah confronts the reader with a story of a woman who goes from meek, naïve, and fearful to a woman willing to risk everything dear to her for a better world and future for her children. The Nightingale explores the impossible decisions that World War II era French wife and mother Vianne has to make—could she live with herself knowing that she kept her child safe by allowing many others, including children, to fall into harm’s way? What sacrifices could she live with? Which would break her? Vianne does and says little against the Germans who have invaded her small town, one of whom is billeted in her home. She is naive about their presence, stating, “We will do as we are told and keep quiet and soon [husband] Antoine will be home and he will know what to do.” Even though not courageous enough to stand up to the Germans, Vianne has strength to continue teaching despite strict new rules, to tend their garden for food when rations aren’t enough, to wake up despite freezing cold and sickness to walk to town to stand in a line for the meager rations she is allowed. Only when the Germans begin to persecute the Jewish, Freemason, communist, and homosexual people in her village, including deporting her best friend, does she realize “... no one could be neutral—not anymore—and as afraid as she was of risking Sophie’s life, she was suddenly more afraid of letting her daughter grow up in a world where good people did nothing to stop evil, where a good woman could turn her back on a friend in need.” As her Jewish friend Rachel is pushed toward the cattle cart of the train, Rachel asks Vianne to save her son Ari, putting him in her arms. From that moment on, Vianne realizes that she would do all she could to make sure her daughter was safe, but that doing nothing in the face of this great persecution, teaching her daughter to be just as bad as the Germans, would break her. Soon after Rachel’s deportation and her “adoption” of Ari, Beck—the German officer billeted in her home—informs her that they will soon deport French-born Jews, including children. Vianne hides Ari in her home and doesn’t know what she will do to protect him. Then Beck brings home false papers for Ari, stating he is her child. Vianne is conflicted as Beck continues to show her kindness and understanding, but she remembers him holding a whip to drive Jews into cattle carts. The fact that they are in a war, and Beck will uphold his duty when commanded, builds a wall between them. Ultimately Vianne is forced to either kill Beck or lose her sister Isabelle. Though infuriated at being forced to make this choice, an angry and assertive Vianne kills a man who has been kind to her in order to save her sister, with whom she has always had a tumultuous relationship. Vianne continues to do what must be done to protect her family—despite increasing shame and unease—even if it means becoming someone unrecognizable. She has to hide her work of finding and hiding Jewish children before they are deported. She works with the Mother at the local Chapel, and finds a man who will draft false identities for the children. Once, Vianne was meek and obedient, but now she was hiding and sneaking false documents to Jewish children. Just when Vianne could not think her life could get any more dangerous, she is arrested and forced to submit to repeated rape by the arresting officer in order to save her children, giving all that is left of her dignity and health. By the time the war ends, Vianne saved 18 children as well as keeping her two children safe. Through starvation, manipulation, loss, abuse, and the threat of the enemy in her own home, Vianne emerges a strong but changed woman. She thought she would be safe at home while men fought the enemy, but learned she had to fight to live and keep her children alive. She sacrificed her well-being, conscience, and body to protect her children and hold on to a world where one would do what was needed for one’s friends. She came to realize that she could live through the wreckage of her body, the loss of health and home, and even murder to protect her family. At the end of the novel, Vianne, now an old woman, reflects: “Men tell stories. Women get on with it. For us, it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions in history books. We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over.” Emily Glover, a native of Northern Michigan, resides in Grand Rapids, MI with her husband and sons. Emily has always had a passion for literature and is thrilled to share that passion with our readers!
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