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 She probed historical documents to find evidence of women who saved Jewish children during World War II, even if they had to pay a terrible price for their heroism, and was rewarded with many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.