Isabelle is the perfect type of reckless rebel we’ve always been set up to love in a story. The type who runs away from her convent prison to visit a travelling circus. The type who, with just one kiss “realised that the landscape of a woman’s heart could change as quickly as a world at war”. And the type who takes no pause in risking her life for what she believes in.
At 19 and in Nazi-occupied France, she joins the Resistance under the codename “Nightingale”, going on to risk her life time and time again to save others.
Her older sister, Vianne, is seemingly her opposite. As a mother, a teacher, and a wife longing for her husband to come home from war, she is a cautious rule-follower who remains polite to her enemies, even when they take over her home.
The relationship and evolution of the two sisters is at the story’s core. It becomes clear that the rule-follower and the rebel are as similar as they are different, as they’re faced with moments of both great love and devastating loss amidst the war. Their relationship with their father was particularly poignant, as their resentment at his withdrawal following the death of their mother grows to the wisest type of love and understanding.
I haven’t been exposed much to details about the French “home front” during the war, specifically I have heard little of the war women were fighting. As such, I appreciated the inspiration behind this book and it led me to discover more about brave women like Andrée de Jongh and Edith Cavell.
There were perhaps some clichés littered throughout, and there was a point where I suspected this was going to turn into a regular, stereotypical historical romance, but I think the heart shown in the ending really sets this book apart.
I, overall, found this to be an incredibly moving story, with the underlying message being centred around the painful beauty that accompanies the fragility and fleetingness of life.