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 good-bye 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 a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalated all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.
Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors or war, she meets Gaëtan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.
Before I start, I have to say that this is now one of my favourite books. Sometimes I wonder how books get hyped up so much when they, in my opinion, shouldn’t have been published in the first place. So many serious issues were dealt with in this book and every page excited me. I couldn’t put it down! I don’t think there’s going to be a way to talk about this book without giving away some key parts of the story, so if you plan to read it and don’t want any spoilers, don’t read any further.
“You are not alone, and you are not the one in charge,” Mother said gently. “Ask for help when you need it, and give help when you can. I think that is how we serve God – and each other and ourselves – in times as dark as these.”
When I started the book, I had a feeling that I wasn’t going to like Isabelle very much. She’s rebellious, childish, and often speaks without thinking about consequences. When she met Gaëtan, I was genuinely annoyed at her behaviour. I understood, at the end of the book, why that portion of the story was needed, but I was so glad that it didn’t last for too long. I ended up really enjoying Isabelle’s journey. Her rebellious nature made her a natural candidate for the Resistance, but her spontaneity desperately needed to be reined in. We’re able to see that natural progression and I appreciated that she stayed true to who she was at all times. Her role in the Resistance was to save abandoned allied paratroopers and sneak them into Spain by way of the Pyrenees. This was a treacherous journey because, aside from the fact that they’d be killed if they were caught, they had to deal with harsh conditions and were only able to travel at night. Isabelle ended up crossing the Pyrenees dozens of times and saving many men.
It’s easy to see that Isabelle was a hero, but bravery comes in different shapes and forms. Vianne may not have crossed mountains to save allied paratroopers, but the things she dealt with were equally as difficult. Twice she had a German soldier stay in her home against her will. The first was a gentle man who tried many times to help save her Jewish friends. It seemed like he didn’t want to be a part of the war and wished for it to end so that he could go back to his wife and child. Vianne and him became good friends. He was a good reminder that not all Nazi soldiers were monsters. The second man, however, truly was a monster. He was abusive and Vianne feared for her and her daughter’s life. Vianne deals with starvation, beatings, and rape. During this time of suffering, she smuggles Jewish children into orphanages, giving them different identities. She did all this knowing that if the man living with her found out she’d be put to death. She, too, was a very brave woman.
“Men tell stories. Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions in history books. We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over.”
I like how this book showed that people are courageous in different ways and all ways are to be admired. It makes me think of the amount of times that we look at people and judge them for not being as brave as the next person. Sometimes a person’s courage is harder to see or they have chosen not to reveal it. At the end of the book, Vianne attends a reunion for the French Resistance members. Isabelle is being honoured and her story is shared. Vianne, however, goes unrecognized. No one knows her story; not even her own son.
I highly recommend reading this book. Kristin Hannah does such a good job of giving us insight into how people, especially women, lived during WWII. It’s hard to imagine that the world was this broken less than 100 years ago.
“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.”