The Nightingale is compelling historical fiction novel carried by two strong female roles living France during WWII. The book follows two sisters, each embarking upon their own dangerous path towards survival in German-occupied France. Vianne’s home is invaded by German occupants and she’s forced to board with an enemy officer. Her younger sister, Isabelle joins the resistance and embarks on a mission, risking her own life to save the lives of others.
They are forced by love and war to make many difficult choices, sometimes even putting their loved ones at risk as a result of the choices they make.
Use our book club questions for The Nightingale to guide to your group on an an all-encompassing tour through a full range of emotions. These two strong female leads are very different women, but The Nightingale covers shared themes such as what women can do when faced with danger, and how to find the strength, love and courage to help others.
This discussion guide for The Nightingale will get the conversation started with a synopsis (did it capture your experience of the book?), 10 book club questions, selected (and discussion-provoking) reviews and three related reads to add to your TBR pile.
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The Nightingale Synopsis
The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah
With courage, grace, and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of World War II and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war.
The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France—a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.
The Nightingale Book Club Questions
- Aside from Isabelle and Vianne being sisters, how else are they alike? In what ways are they different?
- When Christophe meets Isabelle, he scoffs at the idea that a woman can be a hero. How do the women in this book show heroism?
- As Vianne lives with and learns more about Captain Beck, she is torn between many emotions since he is the enemy. Did you also find yourself feeling more sympathetic towards Beck as the story progressed?
- Throughout the novel the narrator’s identity was kept a secret, where you surprised by who it turned-out to be? Why or why not?
- It’s a common theme throughout the book that many characters construct a secret identity for themselves. How did these false identities determine one’s fate, for better or for worse?
- Considering Vianne and Isabelle, how did war change their definitions of love?
- The sisters respond to war in very different ways. Isabelle reacts with defiance and Vianne proceeds with caution to avoid conflict. Which of the two do you relate to more, Vianne or Isabelle?
- Isabelle realizes that her gender is an advantage because any men found aiding others are killed yet any women are sent to camps. She sees that men are considered more of a threat than women and uses this as a weapon during her time in the resistance.
Do you think Isabelle is clever or just naïve?
- By allowing Beck to help her, does Vianne become, in some sense, responsible for what the Nazis have done? Or even a collaborator?
- There are many levels of complicity throughout the story, Beck seemed to reach the limit of what he was willing to allow after warning Rachel to hide. Do you think this act alone gives Beck a redemption of his past faults?
Selected Reviews of The Nightingale
“If any author of the current generation has the panache, boldness, continuity, emotions, perspective and a great way of storytelling it has to be Kristin Hannah […] Every paragraph has a sense of dynamism. The writing style is so beautiful that you can literally visualize the scenes as if happening right in front of your eyes […] Every dialogue is precise and it couldn’t have been done better.
“The more I think about it, the more I realize how frustratingly BAD this book was. I’m not talking about the story – that was mostly good — but the writing was so cliched and trite, almost more romantic novel than historical.”
“There is plenty of intrigue almost from the beginning, but by mid-book this tale will trap you and becomes a page turner […] As others have noted, at least one of the character’s story closely parallels a real life hero — as any good historical fiction is likely to do. But the author builds her personalities, their hopes, dreams, private disillusionments and heroics so they come alive — in parts adventure, in part action-drama, and in part plain who-done-it, this tale will immerse the reader into one of the darker eras of modern history.”
“I feel betrayed by all the readers who gave this book 5 stars. I agree with the other 1-star review that it was both cheesy and contrived and missed the opportunity of being a great novel. It’s lack of sincerity is only overshadowed by its acceptance of dishonesty. In war we find out who we are. Did we? I guess we the readers (suckers) are to be lured in by all the twists and turns of the plot (Who is the dying women? Is she the Nightingale?), but all this drama is a poor substitute for an honest story and good writing […] I really need to vet these books better.”
3 Books like The Nightingale
If your book club likes female-forward historical fiction, we’ve also got book club guides for The City of Girls (Elizabeth Gilbert), The Revisioners (Margaret Wilkerson Sexton), The Personal Librarian (Marie Benedict) and Matrix (Lauren Groff).
Each of the guides has a synopsis up top which will help you decide if the book is for you.
And if you loved Parisian setting, we have a mega-guide with more books set in Paris.
In my Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer, Irene Gut Opdyke
This story is a first-hand account of a girl’s wartime experience during WWII in Poland. Irene was just 17 years-old when the German army invaded Poland, ending her training as a nurse, and thrusting her into the service of the German army.
With her position she was able to steal food and supplies for the Jewish ghettos and later she smuggles people out of work camps. Readers will be riveted by the courage this one woman took to help others in need.
All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
This novel tells two separate stories about teenagers, one of them is a blind girl in Nazi-occupied France, and the other is a German orphan boy who is forced into the Nazi army. Marie Laurie becomes part of the Frech resistance while Werner is pressed into military service assigned to destroy anti-German radio broadcasts.
The two teenagers’ lives reach an entanglement when Werner is set out to destroy the radio broadcast that Marie Laurie is a part of. However, in a turn of events, the very thing Werner is hunting may save his life.
The Room on Rue Amelie, Kristin Harmel
This story tells the tales of three different people; an American woman, a British pilot, and a young Jewish teenager whose lives intersect in Paris during WWII. When fate brings the three together, they must find the courage to defy the Nazis in order to survive. It’s a riveting story about resistance, courage, and defiance in the face of seemingly impossible odds.
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