Monday, March 2, 2015

Kristin Hannah, "The Nightingale"

I've been reading fiction and nonfiction about the decimation of the Jewish people under the Nazis for some years now, and only recently read "Willy Peter Reese's journal, "A Stranger to Myself," about the siege of Leningrad as Allied Forces overtook the Germans during that war.
What crosses the line into Hannah's novel is the portrayal of what happens to common people in war time. The personal losses, hunger, betrayals and failures of humanity when terror and deprivation tear at the fabric of a society are the same, regardless of which nation is touched by war.
I remember being touched similarly by Jenna Blum's absorbing novel, "Those Who Save Us," about a woman forced to collaborate with the Nazis, but living a double life to help stave off the hunger their prisoners must endure.
Equally affecting is Hannah's story, about a young woman, Isabelle, who becomes the "Nightingale" an almost mythic figure the Germans are obsessed with capturing. She leads downed Allied pilots over the mountains to escape France. Her sister, who considers herself far less brave, also rises to the challenge, saving Jewish children from certain death by hiding them within a convent and in her home, under the nose of an abusive Nazi billeted in the house.
Their suffering--no doubt typical of the painful reality endured during the war--is as memorable as their courage. One realizes something about courage in reading this story--that it is not an easy road to take, and it is a way that does not always reward those who take it.
This is a riveting book, and I consider it Hannah's best to date. She has written it nearly flawlessly, and with clear dedication to the people who fought vile German practices in any way they could.