Tag Archives: wehrmacht

The Nightingale

At Mrs. Poolman’s suggestion, I picked up The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah after Mrs. P had finished it. I had some initial doubts, since I suspected it was “chick book.” In fact, it probably is, but there were enough other plot elements to keep me interested.

The NightengaleThe book is the story of two French sisters living in Nazi-occupied France during World War II.  Each in her own way resists the Germans. When they were young, their mother died and their father essentially dumped into the care of a guardian. The “chick” part of the plot deals a lot with the two sisters’ ambivalent feelings towards each other and towards their remote and mostly absent father. To be honest, it was this part of the story that kept me from finishing it sooner.

On the other hand, the author places the characters and their family angst into an interesting and active time and place in history. One sister is active in the French underground. Her adventures keep the story moving along. The other sister stays at home and mostly just copes with the occupiers and tries to survive and protect her daughter. About half way through the book a crisis involving her best friend forces her to take a more active role in resisting the Germans. Things pick up at that point.

There is no equivocating about whom the author considers the good guys and the bad guys. Although one Wehrmacht officer is depicted as a decent human being, the remaining Germans are painted as purely evil.

The entire World War II story is told as a flash-back as one of the sisters is remembering it in 1995. You don’t know which sister is the modern character, and I won’t spoil it for you.

I had one major complaint with the book, and it was one I repeated to Mrs. P several times. I wish the author had taken a little more care with the history in which she has planted her story. Time after time she describes war-related events that, if not totally impossible, were at least highly improbable.

She has characters discussing how the war was going badly for the Germans in North Africa before they really were. She has one of the sisters smuggling downed American fliers out of France months before Americans actually began any kind of aerial activity. (There were American fliers in the RAF, so this isn’t totally impossible, just unlikely.) She has an American Mustang (Hannah makes a point of saying it is a Mustang.) shot down while strafing a German airfield in the middle of the night She places this a good year before Mustangs were used in any numbers. And no one was strafing airfields at night any way. It’s night, so the pilots can’t see what they are doing. They also risk flying into the ground or into trees while making low-level passes.

In summary, The Nightingale isn’t bad. I’m not sorry I took the time to read it. However, I think it will appeal more to readers who enjoy stories about women’s feelings and relationships (Mrs. Poolman, for instance), rather than those who prefer a more action-focused plot.

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If God wanted me to speak French, he would have named me Pierre!

I have the opportunity to take a great trip later in the spring. More on that later. But in the meantime, I am trying to learn a little French. Boy, has that been an experience!

My language background is two years of high school Latin (which I have found to be surprisingly useful), and two years of HS and one year of college German (for which the only use I have found is translating what Wehrmacht soldiers are saying in old World War Two movies.)

Actually, the one time I had a chance to put that German to use was about 12 years ago when I had the opportunity to travel to Germany with the local Air National Guard unit. (I was acting as a civilian TV news producer and photographer, not a member of the ANG.) That experience demonstrated how useless a language can be if it is just barely learned and then sits unused for 25 or more years.

At Ramstein Air Force Base, I saw a number of street signs with the designation “Einbahn Strasse.”

Duh!

I remembered enough German to know that Strasse means “street.” So I wondered, “who is this ‘Einbahn’ guy who has all these streets named after him?”  After awhile, it hit me like one of those stupid-bolts from out of the blue. . The American translation for Einbahn Strasse is pretty common in this country – “One Way Street.” Duh!

So my latest adventure in languages is a learn-while-you-drive CD I borrowed from the local library. I have been listening to the first CD in the set over and over for the past couple of days commuting. It is not going well.

First – I am a very visual learner. I have difficulty remembering the vocabulary without seeing it.

Second – What happened to all the consonants in the French language? I have a hearing deficiency and wear hearing aids. Consonants are my weak area. The French speakers on the CD just compound it. Everything sounds like they are just slurring vowels together.

Third – I’m just an idiot. (Note reference to “Einbahn Strasse” above.)

In any case, I’m going to keep at it, at least for a while longer. I don’t need to translate Voltaire; I just hope to be able to ask for directions if necessary.

Years ago, I had a friend whose dream was to be a foreign correspondent. (He achieved that by the way.) He always said, his goal was to be able to say “Where to you find the hot babes in this town?” in at least six languages. I don’t think that is on my language CD, and besides, Mrs. Poolman wouldn’t appreciate me practicing that one anyway.