Book Club Reflection: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

10 May

My book club met last week to talk about a book I really enjoyed, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I wasn’t the only one who’d enjoyed this book via audio and the others who had agreed with me that the narrator was great and she kept us engaged the whole time.

The copy of the book we had contained an interview with Hannah. She talked about how she was inspired by the story of a Danish woman who created an escape route for downed airmen, much like Isabelle. She doesn’t have a personal connection to WWII but this story inspired her to do research about it. She did extensive research and consulted her notes to write almost every scene. She mentions that in one iteration of the novel, Isabelle fell in love with a downed airman. One of our readers thought this was going to happen. One of the men was from Oregon, where we know one of the sisters ends up living. We thought the US setting for the 1995 plotline meant she’d be with him. I wonder if it was the first airman she helped, Torrance. He seemed rather well-developed for a character that disappeared.

The first line of the book is, “If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.” The narrator is making a point that love is ideal and we can be our ideal selves, while war is the reality and the bad side of humanity. It sets a tone early on that the narrator has done something she feels she needs to be forgiven for.

One of the hardest moments for me as a reader, and when my waterworks of tears for the rest of the book started, was when Ari was taken away. A Jewish woman in my group said it was a hard scene to read. She could see the good side of that decision and know that Ari would be raised in the Jewish faith. But she could also see how wrong it was to take him away from a woman who loved and raised him. It’s a hard decision to make and we were all glad we didn’t have to make it.

Beck’s death was a very conflicting time. It was obvious that Beck had a moral compass and knew what was happening was wrong. He was a prisoner, much like Vianne. He was stuck doing something he didn’t want to under the guise of serving his country. He recognized that it was wrong and went so far as to put himself in harm’s way to help Vianne and Ari. It became even more complicated because he clearly had feelings for Vianne despite having a wife and child at home. We were sad when he died, even if he was a German.

The father’s death was another hard moment. A few women in my group said they figured out that he was part of the resistance before he revealed that fact to Isabelle. When she broke into his bookshop, the one room that was under a good lock and key had a printing press. They realized that meant he was printing material and reasoned that it was for the resistance. Good eye, ladies!

Isabelle’s death was clearly an emotional scene. Hannah has said that this was her favorite scene to write. Isabelle had said to Vianne that her life had been enough so we feel that she’s at peace when she passes. However, being reunited with Gaëton so short a time makes us question what more she would have wanted. I had some issues with the relationship between Isabelle and Gaëton. I felt it was very rushed and flat and I felt it was more like lust than love. Some others felt the same but others thought that it was an accurate depiction of a relationship grown out of a time at war. Things happened faster because there was no guarantee of a future. He was in and out of the book so often that I felt you didn’t get attached to him.

Learning who the narrator was and who Julian was were good twists. Many of us thought it was Isabelle. Mainly, it was due to the line on page 384 where the woman says, “Juliette hasn’t existed for a long time.” I thought she was talking about her persona, Juliette, not her sister, Isabelle. Kudos to Hannah for keeping us guessing up to the end!

Learning the truth about Julian made us ask the obvious question, Did Antoine know? We think he did. On page 510, he talks about choosing to see miracles. Vianne questions if this is his way of saying he knows. He’s choosing not to admit or say aloud that Julian isn’t his. Surviving the war is more important than grudges or being angry. He’s rejoicing in the fact that they’re all alive.

The book forced you to ask yourself if you would put yourself in harm’s way to save someone. What if that person was a stranger? Both sisters risked their lives for total strangers in the end which is an amazing feat. The book built a world where those actions seemed necessary, but they were incredibly risky.

It was a great discussion and I was so glad to talk more about this incredible book with fellow readers. Our next book is Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and I’m looking forward to it.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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5 Responses to “Book Club Reflection: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah”

  1. cafereading May 10, 2018 at 3:47 PM #

    Great review! If I could say one thing (and I may have just missed it) but it’s probably best to put in a spoiler warning for deaths and stuff, but it’s nice to see an in-depth review:)

    Like

  2. Gee Jen May 11, 2018 at 8:27 AM #

    Sounds like a good bookclub pic

    Like

    • Sam May 11, 2018 at 9:11 AM #

      It was great for discussion! Happy reading.

      Like

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