Nightingale is a beautiful story of war, love, relationships and a sad tale of how things that seem so in your control slip our of your hands when war hits. The plot is done fairly well and characters well-developed. A credit to the book is for sure that it is wrapped pretty good in the end.
The story is about two sisters – Vianne and Isabella, and set in a World War II French village. The writer walks us through physical and emotional journey and the toil of the war that these two sisters go through in that quiet part of the world. It is a slow and deliberate account of how when war happens, it creeps into lives of people, whether they are ready or not, how people adapt to brutality of having to share homes with Nazi soldiers, separating from spouses, seeing off friends forever, watching them die, and even finding good in the enemies that brought all this. Vianne – whose husband leaves for Front and she has a daughter to care for, believed the war would never find its way to their village. Isabella although younger, on the other hand prepared for the war in her own way. This book tells readers what war did to women and goes in detail the courage, sacrifice that the women had to make in order to survive the war while staying behind.
Kristin appeared as a sensitive writer which can be appealing to modern women readers – maybe. She portrays the Paris of the era of World War II and plugs in the fictional aspects to storify the history. There are times when the details become very intense where some may be close to tears and many in tears. I looked forward to reading about the two sisters and sometimes the suspense that writer created from one part of the book to another, from beginning to the end and even within small sections of the novel did have an impact in different ways. She altered the narration between the two sisters and did a good job of psycho code switching between two different personalities which always wins one as a writer.
The plot sustained the interest throughout but well before halfway, the details seemed to be taking over the actual events. Too many words, moment-to-moment accounts made the story a drag. The author lost me a little here and some more there. Sometimes she also crossed the fine line that separates telling a story from begging pity for the characters. So as a reader, you come close to the characters, start feeling their plight but when too much of the sorrow bleeds the scene, and the clichéd writing becomes repetitive, you experience a certain disconnect and distance with the actual happenings and the characters – you “wait” to finally go back to the story and cast.
It’s not easy to create a period work especially from another country so I will give that much to the author before I point out another thing that I felt went against the book. Although there were lots of French jargon/ phrases thrown in the book and scenes of Paris were described but somehow the picture does not appear complete, even to a person like me who does not speak French or has never lived in France. Time-wise, of course the details were not personally experienced by the author, but they did seem to be very much taken out of the history and then pasted as a background for the story and characters. The novel simply failed to take me to the era – a quality that a period work must exhibit. The absence of expertness in this aspect of research forced me to compare her work with couple of other writers – like Emilie Richards (only to compare the efforts a writer puts in his/her work to create and authentic piece). The latter spent few years in New Orleans and created sequels like The Iron Lace and Rising Tide and then explored Shenandoah Valley to create another series. Her books talk about past and present, are very well researched. I like how her account is so authentic and references look very true – there is so much to enjoy in the series other than the beautiful story itself (and I actually mistakenly read the second one first!). I read the books long time ago and believe me they sparked my interest to buy them again recently and visit New Orleans last year. I believe that is the kind of impact one should expect from a work of an artist – (like Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey inspiring to visit Highclere!)
I like to read good period novels and occasionally war novels. And then I also pick up chick-lits here and there while reading heavy books. I am not sure how to categorize this book – a glorified chick-lit set in war? The (somewhat) hermetic ending followed by (fairly) well-crafted storyline eclipses the flaws of the book and the reader ends the book with a good note and the book maybe redeems itself for some time – but not for long. You sit on it for little longer and its loose ends appear fraying in plain view even if you ignored them while reading. As for recommending, if you are used to reading high-class literature, you may not like this book – neither as a chick fiction nor a war story!