By Kristin Hannah
Goodreads Rating: 4.54
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Publication Date: February 3rd 2015
Format Read: Audiobook via Library Overdrive
Challenges met: Read Harder Challenge
Goodreads Summary: Despite their differences, sisters Vianne and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Vianne is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Vianne finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her.
As the war progresses, the sisters’ relationship and strength are tested. With life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Vianne and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.
I cannot explain enough how much I loved this book. I cried about 50 gazillion times reading it, mostly because it was sad, but also sometimes because I was happy. This is a WWII book, which I know can get old for a lot of readers, but it was such a new, interesting take that it seemed completely new. Isabelle and Vianne are both sisters from France, which was taken over during WWII by the Germans, and so they were essentially living in German controlled territory, billeting with soldiers, and trying to run secret revolutions. That sounds dramatic, but everything fit, and there was so much personal relationship details that everything felt so so so real.
If you read one book this year, I would hands down say that it has to be this one, because it is rare that a book moves me this much, and I couldn’t stop listening. One thing I would say is that I sort of wish I read it rather than listening because there were so many pretty, well written phrases that I would have wanted to see in print. But I’m a nerd so maybe that doesn’t go for everyone. (plus, I would have finished it wayyyyy faster)
The main characters in this book are Isabelle and Vianne. They are sisters, but total opposites. The rebellious, impulsive younger sister Isabelle, and the mature, takes care of everything Vianne. Now, Hannah ran a serious risk of just creating one dimensional stock characters, based on the background and everything, but she managed to do anything but that. The two sisters were alive and real and you felt for their every movement, you wanted them to succeed, you cried for them, and by the end they were your friends.
Vianne sort of annoyed me in the beginning, mainly because the way she behaves is so contrary to my personality, but she was still a great character, and she ended up growing on me and becoming a super loved character, so stick with her.
The other characters in this book, although less prevalent, are very very well developed through their actions and words, and the whole word is 3 dimensional. I don’t know how everything felt so alive, but I felt like I was in France, in WWII, the entire time, and it hurt. It made everything SO AMAZING. I cannot explain enough how perfectly incredible this book was.
There’s nothing that could have been done better in this book. The plot alternated 3 ways, between an old woman who was being moved into a nursing home in present day Oregon, Vianne, and Isabelle. My personal favorites were Isabelle’s chapters, just because she’s exciting and lives life on the edge so her chapters usually had more action in them.
Vianne filled the book with emotion and despair and portrayed the more traditional housewife-with-husband-at-war outlook, although I can assure you her experiences were far from stereotypical.
The old woman thing was a really cool idea– it kept you guessing until the very end which sister it was. Also, it allowed Hannah to show the present day and recap on what happened to all of the characters in the interim, which I LOVED because it meant I didn’t have to sit there thinking “did _____ marry ____?” or anything else… it was given to me.
I will tell you that although the entire book was powerfully, incredibly written, the ending was by far the best ending of any book I’ve ever read. It was PERFECT and I don’t think Hannah could have changed anything to improve it. Your relationships to the characters came through so strong, and everything was asdfghjkl EMOTION!
Diversity and Triggers…
(as always, this section contains minor spoilers so you should just ignore it if you aren’t concerned about anything in particular)
I’ve got nothing in the diversity spectrum for you, but it was 1940s France so cut it some slack.
As far as triggers go, there is rape in one portion, death (of children especially), and concentration camps.
YOU NEED TO GO OUT AND GET THIS BOOK TODAY, NO EXCUSES!!!! It was remarkable, wonderfully written perfection. I can’t even write because I feel like crying just thinking about it. All I can say is, get the book. And I want to know if you read it and what you think!!!!!
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