Summary and Analysis
In a Paris hospital, Micheline and Isabelle say good-bye to each other before being sent home. Isabelle meets Vianne in Carriveau. Isabelle is still bedridden with fever and coughing up blood, reminding both of them of their mother’s death. Vianne apologizes for believing that Isabelle was being selfish when she was in fact fighting for the resistance. Together, they read the letter that their father left for them.
A week later, Gaëtan visits Isabelle and confesses that he has always loved her. Isabelle realizes that loving and being loved are what have mattered most in her life. She thinks of the people who have loved her, especially her sister, Vianne. She dies hoping that they won’t forget her.
Although many hints foreshadow Isabelle’s death, it is impossible to say with certainty even from this chapter whether the elderly woman described years later will be Isabelle or Vianne. In Chapter 26, the elderly woman says that the Nightingale “hasn’t existed for a long time.” Isabelle says something similar after Micheline chides her for talking about herself in the past tense. “But I am past tense,” Isabelle insists. Whether or not Isabelle survives, she seems confident that her identity as the Nightingale cannot survive. Isabelle’s death at the end of the chapter is also written ambiguously so that it is impossible to tell whether or not she has really died. All of these factors increase the suspense of the revelation in the final chapter.
Gaëtan’s visit to Isabelle once again raises the theme of love’s changing nature in warfare. Gaëtan tells Isabelle that she is still beautiful and she laughs, knowing that her time at the camp has made her “ugly” by many standards. However, Gaëtan’s love born of wartime sees beauty beyond the physical.