Why a booktrail?
“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.”
Story in a nutshell
In a quiet French village, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. There’s talk of Germany trying to invade France but no one thinks that will happen. When the nightmare becomes reality, Vianne is forced to cooperate with an enemy whilst her husband is away, in their clutches.
Vianne is now in great danger for the enemy watches, waits and takes over her house and life.
Meanwhile, Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, a rebellious 18 year old falls in love with a French man. But Isabelle finds herself betrayed and so joins forces with the resistance but this is a grave and dangerous place for a young girl to be.
Two sisters in wartime and a women’s view of unfolding events
Place and setting
Loire Valley and Paris
On this beautiful summer morning in the Loire Valley, everything was in bloom. White sheets flapped in the breeze and roses stumbled tumbled like laughter along the ancient stone wall that hid their property from the road
The idyllic village of Carriveau, nestled somewhere in the Loire Valley. Such a picture so far removed from the horrors of war, you can’t imagine. But this is the setting for an invasion, of a country, of a life and one woman’s home as the Nazis invade and stay. The war progresses and the line between what’s right and what’s wrong becomes ever more blurred. Neighbours, friends, family -all suspect each other and all are in grave danger.
Children in war time are forced to grow up quickly – when Viane tries to explain that Sarah has ‘died’, Sophie immediately calls her on it – she’s Jewish she replies.
Vianne hated what she saw in her daughter’s eyes right now. There was nothing young in her gaze – no innocence, no naivete, no hope”
All the time, her husband is away, she is alone and abandoned with a Nazi soldier and the war she thinks is far away comes right up to her doorstep and causes divisions in communities which last a lifetime.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Isabelle. Paris is overrun. The Nazis control the city. What is an eighteen-year-old girl to do about all of that?”
Isabelle meanwhile is a polar opposite from her sister and joins the resistance to fight the Nazis in her own way. She is young and care free, full of energy and reckless. But this vibrant energy takes her from Paris and into the resistance movement where her life spirals into a major challenge of war time France and survival.
Where Isabelle is an active player and Vianne a ordinary civilian in an innocent town, these two women show how difficult, horrific, brutal and devastating war was on the women forced to survive in any way they could.
Whether it’s the countryside or the busy centre of Paris, the war afflicts both and devastates everything in its path.
The book is actually inspired by the real life figure of Andree de Jongh who founded and organized the Comet Escape line through Belgium and France to Spain http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1566506/Andree-de-Jongh.html
Be prepared to weep when you read this book. What these women went through, what they suffered, what they saw. The brutality of it all and the unfairness of their situation – grabs you by the throat and never lets you go.
What the novel excels at is the stark portrayal of the decisions these women faced on a daily basis. Imagine having a Nazi soldier take over your home? Your children starving because of the rations, the inability to do and go where you want? The fear and the not knowing.. The Nazis do everything to break the spirit of the French people and the death camps are in full operation…These scenes are amongst the most heartbreaking I’ve ever read.
The relationship between the two sisters changes throughout the novel and the story of each one – how they came to be where they are and how they deal with their ‘ lot’ in life was fascinating and so well written. Decisions in wartime are unlike any other and these two very different personalities really gave a full and heartbreaking picture.
I can not recommend this book enough – for the sheer scope and heart wrenching pull of the story. You are right in Vianne’s house and alongside Isabelle every step of the way and it’s a poignant and emotional journey.
The strength of these characters – of women in wartime as a whole – is a remarkable angle from which to write a novel. This book pays homage to them and then some. Vianne and Isabelle show unbelievable strength and courage.
Stunning and whole heartedly recommended. Tissues should come with each copy however to save the pages getting a soaking.
And when you read the book you’ll know – The Nightingale has definitely sung.