by Kristin Hannah
In love we find out who we want to be. In war we find out who we are.
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.
CW: rape, torture
I admit that I bought this because I was in (and probably still am) in that phase where I want to read all things World War II, this is one of the most hyped books I have seen on bookstagram and BookTube as well. With so much hype surrounding it, I was almost afraid to actually start reading the book, I don’t deal well with hype in general. Well-deserved or not. However I must say that this one did not live up to the level of hype that I saw everywhere.
It’s not that the plot is weak or the writing bad or even the characters convincing, it’s more that I couldn’t quite feel invested enough in them for the longest time. I had to reach, I think, till page 160 or something to finally start feeling like ‘yes, I wanna know how this goes.’ I don’t think one should have to read that much to want to know more about the book and its plot or characters. I do admit that after that 160 something mark, things did pick up pace and the characters did feel interesting and I was invested because I read the rest of the book that day. There were certain things, many pages that could have been edited out, made it into a tighter and considerably more enjoyable read for me. I should also mention that there’s a triggery scene and it isn’t in detail but there’s nothing left for imagination, everything else is there.
A story of two drastically different women who are also sisters during the World War II. The concept of the book was interesting and there was an attempt to execute it too but it fell short for me. While trying to show how women were facing problems in life, and how some women aren’t quite the rebels that Isabelle was, the author painted a really odd picture of Vianne. I so wanted to be on Vianne side during the whole book and at times, I was. I could understand her motives and I could maybe forgive her naiveté initially but when it happened far too many times for my comfort, I lost faith in that character’s ability to develop. I am not sure if that happened to others who read the book but it certainly happened to me.
Isabelle wasn’t without her own set of problems but while I was reading the book, they were muted. However as I started to review the book and read the notes I had made, I realised that Isabelle is also shown in rather stark colours. She is either too rebellious and quite childish (just as Vianne thinks she is) or she is noble and self-sacrificing. I couldn’t see the full picture, I couldn’t decide if she was some of those things for some time or all of them all the time or all of them some of the times.
You might start thinking if there is only going to be negativity in this review. No, I am about to talk about some really good points of the book. There were few of them scattered throughout the book and I loved them and they are one of the reasons this book got a 3.5 (or 4) on GoodReads.
I loved the way the author showed us the slow at times but also rather too fast occupation of German forces, the way the author showed that while some might have joined the German forces out of genuine honor but over the period had realised the reality of things. How they had their own lives and they had moments of doubts and warring emotions. I admit that I cried during a certain scene when a little girl is killed and Vianne had to explain it to her daughter. It was hard and it was handled fairly well.
I also really liked the way Vianne and Rachel’s friendship was shown and how it went through so many things before the end of that arc in the book. I specifically found it important that the author showed us Beck before she showed us the other German officer who billeted at Vianne’s house. It made the transition of Vianne from a timid, helpless woman into a slightly braver and truly remarkable woman easier.
There were many things that I found problems with in the book however few scenes and some chapters saved it from being a 2 star book for me. I would recommend it for those few things that I loved, overall, it’s not a terrible book and it’s not a brilliant book. It’s just…a slightly problematic one. At least for me. I am aware that I might in the minority regarding the rating of the book in the bookish community but I simply couldn’t go beyond what I rated it. Trust me, I am disappointed too. So, any fans of historical fiction, specifically World War II fiction could enjoy it hopefully.