Lessons from The Nightingale
Now, nothing I read measures up. It was that good! I still feel haunted by the two central characters, Vianne and Isabelle, and their very different struggles to survive in Nazi occupied France. While Isabelle’s youthful passion for justice and the need for her father’s love draw her into the Resistance, Vianne must figure out how to live and protect her daughter with a Nazi officer under her roof and her Jewish best friend in the house next door. Isabelle thinks she’s so tough, and Vianne sees herself as so weak. Both are forced to find out how strong they really are. Don’t we all have to at some point?
I immediately related to Vianne—left alone with a child knowing her husband is in a prison camp, trying to survive on rations that keep getting smaller, wanting to keep her sister safe while knowing that Isabelle might get them all killed or deported if she sticks around. Knowing other women are gossiping about her while she does what is necessary to stay alive. Giving her share of food to her daughter until someone reminds her “If you die, she has no one.” (Friends would have needed to tell me that too!) Feeling helpless and spineless but somehow finding the guts to take risks for the sake of others. Reeling from loss that she couldn’t afford to grieve over yet if she wanted to live through the day. Wrestling later in life over which secrets should be shared and which details the kids are better off not knowing. Wishing she could have done more while people tell her, “I’m alive because of you.” Vianne reminded me how strong we can be when needed, especially when others are counting on us.
I had a harder time connecting with Isabelle, until I saw how wounded she was, and how her need to be loved drove her impulsiveness, and knew it was only a matter of time before she lived the warning, “I hope you never have to find out how vulnerable you are.” But she was also the one willing to help an injured airman before the Nazis found him and lead dangerous escape missions “because no one will suspect a girl.” She taught me that there are many who owe their lives to the reckless ones, but that those rebels hide a lot of pain behind their boldness and eventually hit their limit.
When I finished the book, just before midnight last Thursday, I could not get the last few words out of my mind.
“Wounds heal. Love lasts. We remain.”
I went to sleep marveling over what some people can endure. I thought about how easy it is to judge another person’s situation and miss out on how courageous they had to be, or say “I would never …” when we know deep down that, in a desperate situation, we might. And it would change us and others forever. But, wow, those final lines are so true!
Which book has really stuck with you this year? What did God teach you through the characters? What have you gained from reading stories about courageous women who were just trying to survive?