“In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”
Rating: 5 stars
This novel was devastatingly beautiful and utterly heartbreaking. It was a tale of love and loss, and it blew me away. This book was never on my radar until it was suggested as the January buddy read with the fourteen perfect strangers book club, and at first I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it. After studying WW2 during my A Levels, I haven’t really had an interest in reading historical fiction set during wars. I wasn’t really looking forward to this, and was a little skeptical through the first 100 pages. However, I was soon completely swept away by Kristen Hannah’s beautiful prose and heart-wrenching plot.
Hannah’s writing style is incredible. Through a dual narrative following the lives of two sisters during World War Two, Hannah intricately weaves a story of strength and bravery and pain and sadness. Above all, it is a story of love. The love between siblings, between parent and child, between best friends and lovers, and the love for complete strangers. There are mothers torn from their children and husbands from their wives, villages separated by religion and destroyed by soldiers who killed without mercy. Hannah’s beautiful and vivid imagery, of beautiful landscapes and cozy towns, is sharply contrasted in subsequent pages by depictions of fear and grief, of war-torn streets and malnourished children. If it wasn’t so devastating it would be the most beautiful book I’ve read. My heart was so destroyed by the end of the novel that I actually cried. Cried!! I barely ever cry when reading. A book that is able to move me to tears is almost certainly going to be a 5 star from me.
I loved the inclusion of elements of the war that are often overlooked in textbooks and novels. I particularly liked the exploration of the German soldiers who were reluctant to fight in France, those that were ashamed of their actions and were being forced to follow orders. It was an interesting angle to portray against the suffering of the French women and children, and yet I still felt sympathy for him, and I really liked Hannah’s inclusion of this aspect of the war. Most importantly, I loved the exploration of women during the war, and how their importance and ability was so easily overlooked by enemy forces. There were several occasions where the role of women was completely disregarded, but it actually played to the advantage of the resistance, and I found that to be a wonderful case of irony. Women were underestimated, and because of that they were able to cause even more damage. I loved it.
I would highly, highly recommend this novel. Even if historical fiction isn’t usually your thing, I think this is definitely worth a go. It is soul-destroying and a difficult read, but it is so beautiful and intricate, and the writing is incredible.
Were there any books you were reluctant to read but ended up loving? Have you read this book? Or have any recommendations for other Kristen Hannah novels?