The Nightin­gale

Kristin Han­nah

By – December 18, 2014

Best-sell­ing author Kristin Han­nah is known for her moth­er-daugh­ter fic­tion and her sen­si­tive prob­ing of the rela­tion­ship of sis­ters. In The Nightin­gale, her twen­ty-first nov­el, she uses her con­sid­er­able skill as a sto­ry­teller to trans­port us to France dur­ing World War II and bring us the sto­ry of Isabelle and Viann, who are sis­ters but not friends. The result is an epic love sto­ry and fam­i­ly dra­ma that por­trays two young French women who are plunged into unimag­in­able chaos by a coun­try at war, yet who must find with­in them­selves the courage to face the forces of destruc­tion in order to keep their fam­i­lies together.

Han­nah, a pop­u­lar writer of fic­tion about women, sets out the cen­tral issue of the book in the first para­graph: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.” As we read, we find out what Isabelle and Viann are will­ing and able to do to sur­vive, and we are con­front­ed with the haunt­ing ques­tion: would we risk our lives for our chil­dren, our friends, the strangers in our midst?

Pro­pelled in her efforts to write this nov­el by her obser­va­tion that the actions of women in wartime are often over­looked, at best, and typ­i­cal­ly even­tu­al­ly for­got­ten, Han­nah fol­lowed her instinc­tive belief in the val­ue of women’s untold sto­ries. She probed his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments to find evi­dence of women who saved Jew­ish chil­dren dur­ing World War II, even if they had to pay a ter­ri­ble price for their hero­ism, and was reward­ed with many poignant sto­ries. The result is this ten­der, com­pelling, char­ac­ter-dri­ven nov­el, which takes us along on the jour­ney toward the choic­es these women were forced to make to res­cue their chil­dren and pre­serve their way of life.

Han­nah lives in north­west Wash­ing­ton and Hawaii with her hus­band and young son. Born in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in 1960, she moved to Wash­ing­ton State when she was a child. She trained as a lawyer and then prac­ticed enter­tain­ment and anti-trust law for sev­er­al years but ulti­mate­ly gave up her prac­tice to write her high­ly suc­cess­ful sto­ries of female friend­ship, moth­er­hood, and domes­tic con­flict. This book, how­ev­er, is a depar­ture from her oth­er fic­tion, which are all con­tem­po­rary nov­els. To write The Nightin­gale, her first his­tor­i­cal nov­el, she chose to spread her wings. The result is a sat­is­fy­ing slice of life in Nazi-occu­pied France.

Lin­da F. Burghardt is a New York-based jour­nal­ist and author who has con­tributed com­men­tary, break­ing news, and fea­tures to major news­pa­pers across the U.S., in addi­tion to hav­ing three non-fic­tion books pub­lished. She writes fre­quent­ly on Jew­ish top­ics and is now serv­ing as Schol­ar-in-Res­i­dence at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al & Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau County.