Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: February 3, 2015
Length: ~17 hours
Description from Goodreads:
In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.
Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real–and deadly–consequences.
Normally, when I write reviews, it’s just me rambling on about what I liked or didn’t like. This time, I’m playing around with making things a bit more structured.
So without further ado, I’ll dive right into what I thought about this book.
The story is told from the point of view of two sisters in France during WWII: Vianne and Isabelle. From the beginning, Isabelle is a fighter and resists anything to do with the Germans. She starts off being pretty reckless and not very smart about her defiance to Germans. But as she grows and matures, she becomes a very strong woman who helps a lot of people.
Her older sister, Vianne, has a daughter and doesn’t want to do anything that would put her daughter at risk, so she is much more complacent. That doesn’t make her boring or a bad person, though. She does what she feels is right for her family.
I actually really appreciated seeing a character in a Nazi-occupied area not immediately standing up and fighting. In a lot of historical fictions set in this time period, the main character is scrappy and resists the Nazis, even if it puts their lives at stake. But honestly, that situation must have been truly terrifying to live through, and I’m sure many would have acted like Vianne and did whatever the Germans said just out of fear.
Vianne also has a very lovely character arc that does seem natural and accurate for someone in the situation. Kristin Hannah did an excellent job of writing two very realistic characters.
I also thought that the character of Beck, a German soldier who lives with Vianne during the war, was well-written. It was interesting to see a portrayal of a German soldier that wasn’t entirely negative. I always felt so conflicted when he did something nice for Vianne because I wanted so badly to hate him. There is a line where Beck says that he signed up for the army because it was the honorable thing to do, but it’s clear through many of his actions that he isn’t comfortable with what he’s being forced to do. There are moments when he risks his life to give information to Vianne to help her or her friends out.
And of course there are also a bunch of horribly cruel Nazis that really made my skin crawl.
I think that Hannah also does a great job of creating interesting side characters too. Everyone in this novel seemed to have their own story and personality that shines through.
The book is set in France during WWII. I didn’t feel like there was a ton of worldbuilding, in terms of what the locations looked like, but she really does paint a vivid picture of what it was like for the people to be living in Nazi-occupied France, but that’s really a result of the way she wrote her characters.
I really loved the various storylines in the novel. She manages to weave together so many different things and really illustrate so many different aspects of the war. We get a glimpse of what it is like in a bunch of different regions during the war.
The novel starts off with an older woman, who is unnamed at the start, and I was a fan of her storyline as well. It jumps back to this character every so often, but not in a way that felt intrusive.
I thought the novel was paced fairly well. I can’t really recall any moments that felt like they were dragging on, and I always felt compelled to keep reading to learn more. Being such a long book, I was a bit worried that there would be lulls in the story, but it did not feel that way as I was reading.
I listened to the audiobook for this one and was a big fan of the narrator. She does a great job of nailing the different accents, which makes you feel more immersed in the world. She also had a nice voice, so it wasn’t a struggle to pay attention. She also spoke very slowly, so I had no problems speeding it up to 2X speed, which sometimes is too fast for me.
Overall, I really loved this book. I won’t go into detail, but without spoiling anything, I’ll say that I really, really loved the way this book wraps up.
I’ll definitely be reading more of Kristin Hannah’s work in the future