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The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah Summary Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of The Nightingale


Plot

Vianne lives in a small village in France. Her husband Antoine is called up to fight World War II. She is sure the conflict will be over quickly as the Germans could never, ever break the Maginot Line, the French defensive positions which were supposedly impenetrable (the Germans ended up simply going around it).


Meanwhile her younger sister Isabelle gets kicked out of yet another boarding school and sent home to her angry Dad. Her Dad hasn't been the same since World War I broke his mind and he is more than a little unhappy to see his daughter. You may think he is a nasty penis but just wait until the end of the book when he sacrifices his life for her.


The Germans invade Paris so Isabelle's Dad sends her to her sister Vianne in the countryside. Isabelle follows a long train of refugees. She even sees a lot of French surrender monkeys (French soldiers) running away at full speed. When someone gets angry at the soldiers for being surrender monkeys and puts a knife to one's throat, the soldier sobs and actually says it is ok to kill him. German airplanes bomb the refugees which makes Isabelle more than a little uncomfortable.

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One evening the forest she meets a man cooking a rabbit on the fire. His name is Gaetan and he is a communist and a thief, which is pretty much the same thing, except that a communist is a more successful thief.  Isabelle is a little worried that Gaetan wants to bone her but she is very hungry so she stays with him for the night. The next day, Isabelle finds that her hymen is still miraculously intact. She continues walking with Gaetan to Vianne's village.


A swarm of refugees pass by Vianne's house. She helps the first few but realizes she will be quickly overwhelmed so she goes in and locks the doors as if hiding from a zombie invasion.  Vianne notices how badly they smell. She doesn't want their body odor in her spotless home.


Isabelle makes a deal with Gaetan to join the resistance. He wants to seal their deal with a kiss. They kiss and in that one moment Isabelle falls in love with him. This is the basis for their entire romance for the first 75% of the book, since they never touch each other again for 400 pages. It's a little hard to believe that two people fall in love because of a single kiss. Besides, Gaetan is a communist, who knows what he might steal?


When Isabelle awakens after a nap Gaetan is gone. He left a note saying she was not ready to join the resistance. Maybe she wasn't as good a kisser as she had thought.


She reaches her sister Vianne's house. They hear over the radio that the Surrender Monkey in Chief, Marshal Petain, had surrendered to the Germans, allowing France to be carved up into two pieces, a northern occupied section and a southern section run by a puppet government.


Vianne obeys Marshal Petain's order to surrender without question. If he says surrender, Vianne is sure it is all for the best. As you can see, at the beginning of the book, Vianne is quite a surrender monkey too.


Germans come to occupy their village because of the nearby airfield, which they take over.


The Gestapo orders all radios, guns, and explosives to be turned over to the Germans. People who keep them will be shot.


German Captain Wolfgang Beck shows up and demands to sleep in one of Vianne's bedrooms. He is very polite and Vianne's nipples immediately get hard whenever she looks at him.

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Characters

Isabelle: Isabelle is the spunky daughter of Julian and younger sister of Vianne. She's rebellious and gets kicked out of school a lot. She is eager to fight the Germans with no sense of concern for her own well being. She takes dozens of downed allied pilots over the mountains of France into Spain. Then she gets sent to a concentration camp and does not do so well. Her codename is Nightingale and her false identity is Juliette Gervaise. A lot of names just for one girl!

Vianne: Vianne, the older sister of Isabelle, lives in a small village in France called Carriveau. I have never heard of a tiny village with so many vowels. Anyway, Vianne is married to Antoine but he only appears for a bit of sex at the very beginning and end of the book, right after he gets cuckolded by a mean SS officer who impregnates Vianne. Vianne and her daughter Sophie must cope with the German occupation. Vianne has to fight the urge to spread her legs for the German Captain Beck, who lives with her. When she is not trading longing looks with Beck, she is busy saving Jews. At first Vianne is passive about the invasion and criticizes Isabelle for getting involved in the resistance movement, but over time Vianne gets involved too when she starts to save Jewish children from going to the concentration camps. Later she has rough sex with an SS officer and gets impregnated with a Nazi rape baby.

Captain Wolfgang Beck: Captain Beck is the German army officer who is sent to live in Vianne's house. He is very kind and gentle, brings food to Vianne, and in nearly every scene he is in you can tell he wants to bone Vianne. He even assists Vianne helping a Jewish family to escape and brings forged papers so a Jewish baby can survive. His subtle romance with Vianne, however, ends suddenly when she hits him over the head with a shovel and Isabelle shoots him dead.

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Themes

Sometimes you have to do unpleasant things to survive. Vianne has to let a German officer live in her home to survive. Then she has to let Von Richter, the SS man, have rough sex with her repeatedly and inseminate her with a Nazi rape baby in order to keep him from deporting Daniel/Ari.

Sometimes you don't really understand your closest relatives. Vianne thinks Isabelle is a flighty bitch. Isabelle thinks her dad is hateful. But in reality Isabelle is secretly fighting the Germans as is her father. When they all realize this they become great friends, at least until Dad gets executed and Isabelle gets sent to a concentration camp.

Men like it when women look at them during sex. Von Richter demands Vianne looks at him during sex. Some men really get off on that.

The French are surrender monkeys. The French defended France from the Germans for about 30 seconds of book time. Then the French army ran away. Then the Nazis came and took their homes and raped their women. This is why the French are surrender monkeys.

Some French men don't mind being cuckolded. Antoine seems well aware that Vianne is pregnant with a Nazi rape baby, but he doesn't mind being cuckolded. Antoine was in the army and he too is a surrender monkey.

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Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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