The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

“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.”

5/5 stars.
Hardcover, 440 pages.
Read June 12, 2019 to June 17, 2019.

Well, well, well, isn’ it wonderful when the hype about a book turns out to be true? This novel had the perfect combination of things that I love in a good book. A historical-fiction plot based in WWII (one of my favourite settings), strong and dynamic female characters, great writing, and a few surprises in store at the end. If this book has been on your TBR pile, it’s time to go and pick it up!

It’s 1939 and the Nazis have started to encroach on France. Two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, are about to face the war that’s coming. Having lost their mother at a young age and with an absent father who was dealing with his own demons from WW1, the two girls each felt abandoned in their youth. Vianne, the eldest, found love and married early but always relied on her husband for the guidance, rarely making decisions for herself. Isabelle never stopped feeling angry for being abandoned by her whole family. Rebellious at heart, she was kicked out of several girls schools before the start of the war and is rash and headstrong. The two of them couldn’t be more different yet each of them must face the war and the occupation of their country. Vianne must say goodbye to her husband, the only solid foundation she has ever had in her life, as he leaves to fight in the front. Isabelle is anxious to do something to assist in the war efforts, naive to the potential costs and sacrifices. Each sister grows and finds strength through horrible circumstances and rekindles a sisterly love and forgiveness for each other before the tragic end of the war.

The depth of characters in this story is what makes this book so exceptional. Vianne grows from a meek and passive young woman to finding her own voice even through immense tragedy and suffering. Isabelle joins the Resistance and makes an impact in the war yet when she returns home she finds that she is not the only one that has suffered and comes to understand her sister’s sacrifices, as well as their father’s.  The story is both moving and inspiring and there is a particular moment with the father that nearly brought me to tears.

This book has something for everyone and combine that with the great writing it’s no wonder it’s been so popular. Unless another book comes around before the new year, this book is the top contender for my favourite book of the year.

Surviving the Angel of Death by Eva Mozes Kor

“At Auschwitz dying was so easy. Surviving was a full time job.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 175 pages.
Read from May 12, 2017 to May 13, 2017.

I wanted this book off Netgalley but it was no longer available. Dammit. Well, I wanted to read it so badly that I bought it. I was not disappointed.

Eva and her twin, Miriam, were just 10 years old when they were ripped away from their family. It was the middle of WWII and they were among the many Jews being taken to Auschwitz. Eva and Miriam never saw their family again and their survival began from the fact that they were identical twins. As twins, they were given a bit of special treatment compared to the other Jews as the Nazi’s were invested in keeping them alive, at least for a brief period of time. Dr. Josef Mengele, or the Angel of Death, as he became known carried out hundreds of inhumane experiments on twins. Twins were injected with nasty diseases and forced into experiments that killed most of them.

“I was given five injections. That evening I developed extremely high fever. I was trembling. My arms and my legs were swollen, huge size. Mengele and Dr. Konig and three other doctors came in the next morning. They looked at my fever chart, and Dr. Mengele said, laughingly, ‘Too bad, she is so young. She has only two weeks to live.’ 

After fighting to stay alive though the experiments, even at 10, Eva was stubborn and driven to survive. Her uncanny resilience and skills are what kept her and her sister alive during their time in the Auschwitz camp. Eva never did discover what she was injected with despite her extensive research efforts as an adult. The outcome of these injections left both Eva and Miriam with lifelong repercussions and symptoms.

The scene that has been etched into my mind is the one Eva describes near the end of her story. Shortly after the camps had been abandoned by the Nazi’s, the remaining prisoners were struggling to survive and find food, many of them to weak or scared to leave the camp. While Eva is out looking for food she encounters a young normal-looking German girl on her way to school. Eva, in her thin and decrepit form, just stares at the girl. She is mortified to know that that people are living such regular lives while her and her sister lived through hell. Thankfully, the pair and the remainder of the prisoners were saved shortly thereafter.

eva moses kor

Eva’s story is jaw-dropping. I only put the book down because I had to, otherwise I would have read the whole book in one sitting. You get to know Eva and her family personally as she shares a less common (but equally horrifying) story of the Nazi era.

Eva’s advocacy and courage continued throughout her life with the creation of CANDLES (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors).  She is also an advocate for forgiveness and has personally forgiven former Nazi’s for their part in the war.

If you have any interest in human resilience, survival, history, and just general awe-inspiring inspiration then I highly recommend this short read.