Sunday 3 June 2018

Short post in a hurry...

My brother-in-law and his family have just left our place after spending the night, and friends will be arriving from Toronto soon to go the the Maker Expo, so I really only have a few minutes to write up a post for this week.  

My book club met yesterday morning to discuss The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, a book that I had read a couple of years ago.  Here is what I said about it at that time:

“I was up early this morning and had time to finish The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.  I don’t normally read historical fiction, and this book was recently voted Best Historical Fiction title on GoodReads (which I almost never check, but I still get their email updates).  Nor am I a huge fan of domestic fiction of the sort Hannah writes. But somehow during a conversation about books with a teacher at one of my schools, this title came up, and next thing I knew, she brought it in for me to read.  I brought this 400+ page novel home and fully expected not to enjoy it, but it totally sucked me in and I had a hard time putting it down. This novel tells the story of two sisters in France during WWII. They are estranged both from their father and from each other, partly due to their age difference (Vianne is 10 years older than Isabelle) and partly due to their personalities.  Vianne is the mild, responsible one who always follows rules and lives a quiet life in a small French village with her husband and daughter, Sophie. Isabelle, on the other hand, gets thrown out of one boarding school after another for a variety of reasons, mostly for not following the rules. She craves the love and acceptance of her father, but he continually shuts her out or sends her away, as he has done with both children since their mother died.  When Germany invades France and occupies parts of the country, Vianne follows all the rules while Isabelle tries to find ways to break them and resist the Nazis. As the seasons pass, the order in Vianne’s world begins to crumble as the Nazi occupiers change the rules daily, threatening to destroy the livelihoods of everyone, Jews and non-Jews alike. Family members are imprisoned, friends are taken away or killed, and no one really knows what is going on.  But still Vianne does her best to follow the rules, hoping that things will get better. Meanwhile, Isabelle joins the resistance movement and is integral in setting up the Nightingale project, a program to help downed airmen in France return to safety. When the situation in the village becomes unbearable, Vianne is forced to break the rules and do what is right for those she loves, and she must learn to live with the consequences. This book has a bit of everything in it:  It is a domestic story of two sisters who must learn to overcome their differences and love one another despite their past experiences. These sisters must also learn to accept their father for who and what he is. It is a love story, well, actually two love stories. It is also a story of war, offering detailed descriptions of the brutal conditions and cruel treatment people were forced to endure at the hands of the Nazis, but told from the point of view of two very different women who made a difference in their own very different ways, and the difficult choices they had to make on an almost daily basis.  It was also a bit of a mystery, as it is told in the form of an extended flashback, and the reader does not discover until the very end who the main character really is. This well-written, gripping novel is sure to appeal to readers on so many different levels, and Hannah does a great job of portraying the lives of these French sisters despite being an American writer. It reminded me of the excellent novel we recently read for my book group, Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky, although they are very different novels.  While I would never normally have read this title, I’m glad my colleague left it on my desk.  I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or domestic fiction.”

I still feel the same way about this book upon a second reading, and my book club ladies loved it!  We talked about the psychological challenges of the women in this book at that time, and how they had to make on-the-spot decisions on a regular basis that could significantly affect what happened to them and their families.  We appreciated the many sections where food was discussed, the feeding of the families with so little, the hoarding of food by the Germans, and how Hitler used France as a breadbasket to feed the German army. We compared Beck and Von Richer, and discussed what dilemmas Beck, too, faced on a regular basis, when he really believed in what he was doing at the beginning of the war, and how ashamed he was as the war progressed and turned cold-blooded and cruel.  One member mentioned that she wasn’t aware of the use of an escape route over the mountains, another felt that Isabelle’s beauty was an asset as well as a detriment. We talked about the climate at the time, that no one trusted anyone, and individuals had to guess who and what to believe, and how this changed from day to day. One member just said it was a heartbreaking book, all the death and despair, and how, as she was reading it, she kept thinking that she “didn’t want to know”, but at the same time that it was “good to know”.  Her favourite quotation from the book is when Vianne says, “ ‘Men tell stories. Women just get on with it’ “, which led to a discussion about whether it is better to remember or to forget. We had a great discussion, and I would highly recommend this book to any book club.

That’s all for today!  Stay dry and keep reading!

Bye for now…

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