by Kristin Hannah
Published February 3rd 2015
“If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: in love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”
This book has been on my TBR list for over a year now and I honestly feel like an idiot for not picking it up sooner. I have my sister to thank for diving into it this time round after she asked if I had read it. This one will definitely be added into my top favorites list. After reading The Spy by Paulo Coelho, I got into books about the world wars. Both books showed how women were part of the wars even though they were not fighting in the battlefields.
The difference in the two books is that one of the heroines actually existed (Mata Hari) and the other did not. Although it is loosely based on the late Andrée de Jongh (1916-2007) a member of the Belgian Resistance who organized the Comet Line used by Allied airmen to escape from Nazi occupied Europe. Also, Coelho’s book is set around World War I while Hannah’s book is set during World War II. The other thing was that they both used different methods to fight the war. But they are both centered on the French home front.
Almost everything I have come across that takes a look at wartime, they always focus on the battlefield. If not that, they focus on the men who make the decisions and the heroes of the war. But this one takes a look at those who are left behind when the men left to fight. It shows what they went through and how they had to find ways to rise up too. I loved that it focused mainly on the women and their situations and how they thrived with their different personalities. It is the perspective that is rarely spoken of or celebrated.
Meet Vianne and Isabelle, two sisters who are very different from each other. Vianne is the older one, married to Antoine with a daughter called Sophie. Antoine, a postman, is called to fight for his country and has to leave behind his family. Isabelle on the other hand is in Paris with her father when the Germans intrude France. Her father sends her to stay with her sister where he thinks she will be safer but she feels that he is just trying to get rid of her like he always does. But her journey to her sister’s makes her see things differently. It awakens something in her that pushed her to fight back.
“He loves a version of me that is incomplete. I always thought it was what I wanted: to be loved and admired. Now I think perhaps I’d like to be known.”
Isabelle is such a strong-willed person and nothing her sister told swayed her from her beliefs. I loved her strength. It came out as selfish acts seeing that she did not care what her actions might bring to her sister and niece but in time she began to be careful not to bring harm in their way. When they were living together, a German captain was placed to live with them. Isabelle was ready to pack up and leave him alone in the house but Vianne reminded her they had nowhere to go. The captain shows kindness to Vianne to a point I felt as conflicted as she did for taking his help. He was the enemy and he was being nice to her which made her feel like she was betraying her own people.
“I am a mother and mothers don’t have the luxury of falling apart in front of their children, even when they are afraid, even when their children are adults.”
The journey each sister takes is completely heartbreaking. Isabelle reminded me so much of Scarlet O’hara in the beginning. Stubborn to a fault but she matures and sticks to her beliefs while fighting for what she knew was right regardless of many people asking her not to. Her will never wavered, she just kept going and when she felt what she was doing wasn’t enough she found something else to do. The things she goes through will make your heart cry.
“Tante Isabelle says it’s better to be bold than meek. She says if you jump off a cliff at least you’ll fly before you fall.”
The Nazi brutality is felt throughout the book. The way they turned people against their friends. People had to give up information about people they had considered as friends before the war. There were people giving the Nazi information about those who were against them and the things they did to fight back. The information in turn got people arrested or killed. So it brought a divide among the people. No one wanted to be seen out and about talking to anyone in case there was someone who could wrongly accuse them of planning something against the Germans.
“Today’s young people want to know everything about everyone. They think talking about a problem will solve it. I come from a quieter generation. We understand the value of forgetting, the lure of reinvention.”
There is also the fact that the children were forced to grow up so fast. They lost their innocence and had to put on a different face to survive the war. No flowery words could keep them from knowing the truth and they did not hide the fact that they knew what was happening.
“Vianne cupped Sophie’s thin face in her hands. “Sarah died last night,” she said gently.
“Died? She wasn’t sick.”
Vianne steeled herself. “It happens that way sometimes. God takes you unexpectedly. She’s gone to Heaven. To be with her grandmère, and yours.”
Sophie pulled away, got to her feet, backed away. “Do you think I’m stupid?”
“Wh-what do you mean?”
Vianne hated what she saw in her daughter’s eyes right now. There was nothing young in her gaze—no innocence, no naïveté, no hope.”
The book has a love story within it. Not just between Vianne and her husband but also between Isabelle and Gaetan. How it all started between the two felt too cliché but it wasn’t insta love. Hannah saved it from falling into that category though. There’s grew throughout the war as they got wiser and experienced much more from there life then. I won’t say more but if you don’t cry because of them, I don’t know what your heart is made of.
“Some stories don’t have happy endings. Even love stories. Maybe especially love stories.”
But as I read the book, I couldn’t help but wonder why there is so much hatred amongst people that we can never live without war. The mass murders of the Jews broke my heart. The way the Germans retaliated by killing innocent people in a village and I just thought of what’s going on in the world right now after seeing the videos of the people in Aleppo. It’s like people don’t know how to live in peace and they have to expel whatever negative opinions they have against other people through war.
“But love has to be stronger than hate, or there is no future for us.”
I highly recommend this book!
P.S. I recently discovered Ides of March, an online bookstore for Kenyan book lovers. I have not yet ordered anything from them but I will soon. Check them out here. They also deliver!