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Written by Nancy C
Vianne Rossignol Mauriac
Vianne is the older of the two Rossignol sisters, a teacher at the elementary school in her small, rural French town. She lives with her daughter, Sophie, and her husband, Antoine, until the arrival of the Nazis forces him to the warfront as the French try to hold back the advancing Germans. She is a sensible, quietly intelligent woman, who believes that keeping her head down is the most surefire way to get through the war alive. She initially wants nothing to do with the Resistance that her sister has becomes so besotted with, wanting only to appease the Nazis that occupy their town and quietly go about her life as normal so as to protect her family. As the war goes on, however, and her money and food begin to run out, she finds herself first taking in the child of a dead Jewish friend and then saving dozens of Jewish children in her town. A brave and maternal character, Vianne is devoted to her family and finds strength even in the darkest of circumstances.
Isabelle is the younger of the two Rossignol sisters, a fiercely rebellious girl who refuses to listen to other people's orders. Motherless, with an unstable relationship with both her sister and father, she has been expelled from a dozen boarding schools throughout her teenage years, unwilling to settle down and be the proper lady her father so desperately wishes her to be. At the war's start she moves to the countryside to stay with her sister, but finds herself unable to sit still while the war rages outside. She returns to Paris and joins the resistance network, passing around flyers and helping smuggle dozens of British and American fighter pilots over the Spanish border. Given the code name "The Nightingale", she becomes famous in the world of both the Resistance and the Nazis, steadfastly determined to save as many lives as she can. Isabelle is resistant to authority and unwilling to compromise her beliefs, making her a pillar of strength throughout the entire war.
An elusive Frenchman who befriends Isabelle at the beginning of the war, Gaetan is an integral part of the Resistance himself, sneaking through the French countryside to both smuggle fallen fighter pilots and destroy Nazi property in the shelter of the wilderness. He is brash and unapologetic, at first mistrustful of Isabelle because of her youth and lack of experience, but eventually grows impressed with her persistence and abilities. He is loyal to his country and willing to do anything for the safety of France- even if that means risking his life time and time again- and, due to a long history of suffering- is unwilling to trust most people.
Vianne's husband remains in a prisoner of war camp for most of the novel, communicating only through the occasional letter that informs the family of his continued survival. He is a kind, devoted man, who treasures his family above all else- he and Vianne married when she was sixteen, and lost the first baby that Vianne became pregnant with. As a result he adores his daughter Sophie, and regrets having to leave her behind when he goes to fight.
Very young at the time of the German invasion, Sophie quickly becomes obsessed with her aunt Isabelle and her work with the Resistance. She watches her best friend, a Jewish girl, be shot by the Nazis, and immediately wants to spring to action in order to prevent such catastrophes from happening again, much to the horror of her mother. She is energetic and youthful, and sees a brighter future for France- one that she wants to help build.
A German soldier who is quartered in Vianne's home, he becomes cloth with Vianne and her family throughout the several years is stationed in the town. Although he is an enemy, he and Vianne develop a friendship based on a mutual understanding that neither of them are in a comfortable situation- they both miss their families- and he helps the family on several occasions, buying medicine for Sophie when she becomes sick, and sharing the additional food rations that he receives for being a high-ranking officer. When the Jews in the town are to be deported he encourages Vianne to hide her neighbor, although the woman is found and arrested anyway. The relationship borders on becoming romantic at times, but nothing ever comes of it, and despite the friendship Beck cannot forget where his loyalties lie- he is about to report Isabelle for Resistance activity when Vianne shoots him, proving her allegiance to his family and his allegiance to Germany.
Vianne and Isabelle's father surrendered them to the care of a cruel, elderly governess after the death of their mother, and as a result has no relationship with either of his daughters. He disapproved bitterly of Vianne's marriage to Antoine and of Isabelle's constant rebellious actions, but as the war continues he slowly begins to repair his relationship with them, and they learn to forgive him for his cruelty in years past. A veteran of the first world war, he suffers from PTSD and depression, but that mental illness fuels him in the resistance work that he begins to take on (undercover as a waiter at a Nazi bar). At the end of the novel he sacrifices himself for Isabelle, claiming that he is the Nightingale, not her, accepting his execution peacefully.
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