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“One man I should not have killed and one I should have.” One of the Rossingol sisters ruminates on this as she makes her first trip back to Paris as a now elderly woman. Which sister says this is a mystery until the end of the book.
The Nightingale is the story of two sisters whose lives were shaped by tragedy and remolded by crisis. Who is the Nightingale? It seems obvious as you read the story, but by the end you wonder.
One sister, Vianne is happily married with a child, living in a small french country village called Cariveau, in the very house she grew up in. The other sister, Isabelle, is younger, rebellious, and longs for adventure. Stable and mature versus young and impetuous. The sisters do not have much of a relationship since the death of their Mother and subsequent abandonment by their Papa. They also have absolutely nothing in common. But this is France 1939 and the french must pull together, including sisters, if they are to survive the impending occupation as a family and as a nation.
First the men, including Vianne’s husband, march off to war to hold back the Nazi tide. Soon Paris is bombed and the french army is shattered. Isabelle makes her way to Carriveau along with the other wretched evacuees but is uncertain of the reception she will receive from a sister who has withheld any sign of affection for her in the past. In the mass exodus Isabelle meets an equally rebellious young man, Gäetan, who helps her make her way to the house, but leaves her fuming at his betrayal and burning with desires – for love, for adventure, to make a difference, it is all bundled into one hot mess of a young woman. By the time the tanks and the Wehrmacht of the Third Reich roll into Carriveau the sisters are already at odds, and having a dashingly handsome Nazi officer commandeer a room in their home ratchets up the tension between them.
With France itself at odds (Vichy urges collaboration, while Charles de Gaulle is organizing a resistance), Vianne’s first priority is for her family to survive. If this means accepting whatever food and promises the Nazi doles out, so be it. However, having a rebellious teenager who wants to be part of the resistance and daily lashes out at the Nazi officer does not help matters at all.
In time both sisters find strength, courage, love for each other, and they each find their own way to make a stand against the invaders. Viva la resistance!
Cross of Loraine – Symbol of the French Resistance