The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I must be quite hard-hearted, because I did not shed a single tear.
I did learn a couple of things. I had not known that a young woman and her father really did establish an overland escape route through the Pyrenees from France to Spain for downed Allied airmen (apparently the book was based on that, which is pretty cool). I had not known that penicillin was perfected just in time to save thousands of lives during World War II, but antibiotics were not available much outside the Allied military until after the war was over (that would be a contextual error in the book). I also had not known that “storm troopers” originally applied to a unit of WWI German assault forces, the SA aka the Brownshirts, although the information I found says they had lost power by 1934, being toppled by Himmler’s SS and purged in the Night of the Long Knives. What was left of the SA primarily trained regular German soldiers and was not even found to be a criminal organization by the Nuremberg Tribunal. I’m not sure they would have been a threat in occupied France. That would be another contextual error. I just like seeing how many I can spot.
Yes, call me nitpicky. I like contextual accuracy in my historical fiction. Still, this book is better than a couple of truly awful efforts I’ve tried to read lately, which is why I’m giving it two stars instead of one.
There were a couple of things I found just plain silly. I doubt people made “some lame excuse” or talked about someone’s “impulse control” in 1940. The graveyard that had been bombed, with skeletons hanging from the trees with their bones clattering, made me cringe. I also didn’t see the intelligence in using the code name “Nightingale” for a person whose surname was Rossignol – which means “nightingale.” “Hey, Mister Gestapo Man, I’m right here!” One time the character woke in darkness but went outside and “tented” her eyes against the sun (people “tent” their eyes a lot), another time roses were tumbling over the wall in the dead of winter. And Isabelle right at the end – really? View the entire review with spoiler here.
The weird thing is that in spite of the cliched characters and the manipulative ending, it was okay. A bit romance-y, but not enough to make me throw it across the room. It kept me entertained and turning the pages without completely pissing me off. If you like so-so historical fiction smooshed with chick lit with a smidge of romance, you might want to give this a read. But there’s better WWII stuff out there: All the Light We Cannot See (luminous), The Winds of War (epic), or The Book Thief (YA/experimental).