TL;DR: Vianne and Isabelle are sisters who lost their mother young, have an absentee father, and have never really gotten along with each other. Vianne, elder by a decade, is quiet and homely, while Isabelle is attractive, brash, rebellious, and “unladylike”. Then WWII comes, all of the men go off to war, the Germans take over France, and they are left to fend for themselves. Insight into the “women’s war” that I hadn’t been exposed to before. Great characters and story. Definitely stuck with me.
In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.
- Great story. Gives me an appreciation for the side of war that doesn’t normally get attention
- What would I do in their situation? I relate more to Vianne for sure. Isabelle is super badass but in wartime I think I would have to skew towards protecting myself and my family.
- Isabelle being “more than a pretty face” is a relief after she first met Gaetan and I thought it was turning into a romance novel
- Haunting, trauma, very raw, visceral emotions for the entire cast of characters. Tough.
Roses tumbled like laughter
"How terrible," Isabelle said in a voice as sweet and bitter as burned caramel.
Vianne felt Isabelle's absence as keenly as she'd previously felt her presence.
Maybe she had imagined that memory, constructed it from the threads of her own need and wrapped it tightly around her shoulders.
She knew now that no one could be neutral - not any more- and as afraid as she was of risking Sophie's life, she was suddenly more afraid of letting her daughter grow up in a world where good people did nothing to stop evil, where a good woman could turn her back on a friend in need.
How could she ask Mother Superior to take this risk? ...How could she not?
These days, Paris was a woman screaming.
She saw her own childhood as an adult, from far away, with the wisdom this war had given her. Battle had broken her father; she had always known that. Her maman had said it repeatedly, but now Vianne understood. It had _broken_ him.
It was the beginning and end of everything, the foundation and the ceiling and the air in between. It didn't matter that she was broken and ugly and sick. He loved her and she loved him. All her life she had waited - longed for - people to love her, but now she saw what really mattered. She had known love, been blessed by it.
"Men tell stories," I say. It is the truest, simplest answer to his question. "Women get on with it."
- Vianne is in a town called Carriveau with her husband Antoine, daughter Sophie, best friend Rachel (who is Jewish), and Rachel’s children Susan and Ari.
- Isabelle gets kicked out of school and goes to Paris to live with their father Julien. She is forced to evacuate when the Germans invade France. She flees to Carriveau to live with Vianne. She meets a man named Gaetan who will later be important.
- In Carriveau, Vianne tries to lay low. A German named Beck is assigned to live at her house.
- Isabelle joins the resistance, starting by distributing anti-Nazi pamphelets.
- The Germans make life miserable in Carriveau: not enough food, clothing, anything. Vianne gets fired from her job as a teacher.
- Isabelle, not wanting to endanger her sister’s family, takes an
opportunity to help the resistance in Paris.
- They put together a risky plan to get downed Allied airmen across the border to Spain. She leads these escapes, becomes a very important part of the resistance, and takes the codename Nightingale (after their last name, Rossignol).
- The Germans begin deporting Jews to concentration camps. Isabelle tries to help Rachel escape but they fail and Rachel’s daughter Susan is shot and killed. Rachel gets deported and Isabelle must pretend Rachel’s son Ari is her own to save his life.
- Everything collides when Isabelle is in Carriveau and has nowhere to hide a downed bomber so she puts him in Vianne’s barn. Beck finds him, and Vianne must kill Beck to save Isabelle.
- Isabelle is wounded. She goes away with Gaetan, who is also an important member of the resistance. They are in love.
- Vianne begins doing her part in the resistance by putting Jewish children in the Catholic orphanage so they won’t be deported.
- A new German officer replaces Beck. He is extremely cruel to Vianne, raping and impregnating her. Vianne keeps up the lie that the child is her husband’s for the rest of her life.
- The Nazis are searching hard for the Nightingale since “he” is causing so much trouble for them. Isabelle is finally captured and tortured. To rescue her, her father Julien claims he is the Nightingale and is subsequently shot and killed.
- Isabelle is sent to a concentration camp where she bends but does not break, just barely surviving to the end of the war.
- Isabelle and Antoine both return home to Vianne. Isabelle, weakened by the camps, dies shortly after, but not before she is able to see Gaetan one more time.