A sweeping journey that will captivate you from the very first page, The Nightingale is a tale of love and loss, set against the backdrop of World War II. Hannah reframes the experience of war from the words of women, and we meet characters inherently good and some shockingly evil: "In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are."
With courage, grace, and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of World War II and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women's war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France—a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.
Goodreads Best Historical Novel of the Year • People's Choice Favorite Fiction Winner • #1 Indie Next Selection • A Buzzfeed and The Week Best Book of the Year
Praise for The Nightingale:
"Haunting, action-packed, and compelling." —Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author
"Absolutely riveting!...Read this book." —Dr. Miriam Klein Kassenoff, Director of the University of Miami Holocaust Teacher Institute
"Beautifully written and richly evocative." —Sara Gruen, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“A hauntingly rich WWII novel about courage, brutality, love, survival—and the essence of what makes us human.” —Family Circle
“A heart-pounding story.” —USA Today
"An enormous story. Richly satisfying. I loved it." —Anne Rice
"A respectful and absorbing page-turner." —Kirkus Reviews
"Tender, compelling...a satisfying slice of life in Nazi-occupied France." —Jewish Book Council
“Expect to devour The Nightingale in as few sittings as possible; the high-stakes plot and lovable characters won’t allow any rest until all of their fates are known.” —Shelf Awareness
"I loved The Nightingale." —Lisa See, #1 New York Times bestselling author
"Powerful...an unforgettable portrait of love and war." —People
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By Kristin Hannah
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Kristin Hannah
All rights reserved.
April 9, 1995
The Oregon Coast
If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we
find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are. Today’s
young people want to know everything about everyone. They think talking
about a problem will solve it. I come from a quieter generation. We
understand the value of forgetting, the lure of reinvention.
Lately, though, I find myself thinking about the war and my past, about
the people I lost.
It makes it sound as if I misplaced my loved ones; perhaps I left them
where they don’t belong and then turned away, too confused to retrace
They are not lost. Nor are they in a better place. They are gone. As I
approach the end of my years, I know that grief, like regret, settles into
our DNA and remains forever a part of us.
I have aged in the months since my husband’s death and my diagnosis.
My skin has the crinkled appearance of wax paper that someone has tried
to flatten and reuse. My eyes fail me often— in the darkness, when headlights
flash, when rain falls. It is unnerving, this new unreliability in my
vision. Perhaps that’s why I find myself looking backward. The past has a
clarity I can no longer see in the present.
I want to imagine there will be peace when I am gone, that I will see all
of the people I have loved and lost. At least that I will be forgiven.
I know better, though, don’t I?
My house, named The Peaks by the lumber baron who built it over a hundred
years ago, is for sale, and I am preparing to move because my son
thinks I should.
He is trying to take care of me, to show how much he loves me in this
most difficult of times, and so I put up with his controlling ways. What do
I care where I die? That is the point, really. It no longer matters where I
live. I am boxing up the Oregon beachside life I settled into nearly fifty
years ago. There is not much I want to take with me. But there is one
I reach for the hanging handle that controls the attic steps. The stairs
unfold from the ceiling like a gentleman extending his hand.
The flimsy stairs wobble beneath my feet as I climb into the attic, which
smells of must and mold. A single, hanging lightbulb swings overhead. I pull
It is like being in the hold of an old steamship. Wide wooden planks
panel the walls; cobwebs turn the creases silver and hang in skeins from
the indentation between the planks. The ceiling is so steeply pitched that
I can stand upright only in the center of the room.
I see the rocking chair I used when my grandchildren were young, then
an old crib and a ratty- looking rocking horse set on rusty springs, and the
chair my daughter was refinishing when she got sick. Boxes are tucked
along the wall, marked “Xmas,” “Thanksgiving,” “Easter,” “Halloween,”
“Serveware,” “Sports.” In those boxes are the things I don’t use much anymore
but can’t bear to part with. For me, admitting that I won’t decorate a
tree for Christmas is giving up, and I’ve never been good at letting go.
Tucked in the corner is what I am looking for: an ancient steamer trunk
covered in travel stickers.
With effort, I drag the heavy trunk to the center of the attic, directly
beneath the hanging light. I kneel beside it, but the pain in my knees is
piercing, so I slide onto my backside.
For the first time in thirty years, I lift the trunk’s lid. The top tray is full
of baby memorabilia. Tiny shoes, ceramic hand molds, crayon drawings
populated by stick figures and smiling suns, report cards, dance recital
I lift the tray from the trunk and set it aside.
The mementos in the bottom of the trunk are in a messy pile: several
faded leather- bound journals; a packet of aged postcards, tied together
with a blue satin ribbon; a cardboard box, bent in one corner; a set of slim
books of poetry by Julien Rossignol; and a shoebox that holds hundreds of
black- and- white photographs.
On top is a yellowed, faded piece of paper.
My hands are shaking as I pick it up. It is a carte d’identité, an identity
card, from the war. I see the small, passport- sized photo of a young
woman. Juliette Gervaise.
I hear my son on the creaking wooden steps, footsteps that match my
heartbeats. Has he called out to me before?
“Mom? You shouldn’t be up here. Shit. The steps are unsteady.” He
comes to stand beside me. “One fall and—”
I touch his pant leg, shake my head softly. I can’t look up. “Don’t” is all
I can say.
He kneels, then sits. I can smell his aftershave, something subtle and
spicy, and also a hint of smoke. He has sneaked a cigarette outside, a habit
he gave up de cades ago and took up again at my recent diagnosis. There
is no reason to voice my disapproval: He is a doctor. He knows better.
My instinct is to toss the card into the trunk and slam the lid down,
hiding it again. It’s what I have done all my life.
Now I am dying. Not quickly, perhaps, but not slowly, either, and I feel
compelled to look back on my life.
“Mom, you’re crying.”
I want to tell him the truth, but I can’t. It embarrasses and shames me,
this failure. At my age, I should not be afraid of anything— certainly not
my own past.
I say only, “I want to take this trunk.”
“It’s too big. I’ll repack the things you want into a smaller box.”
I smile at his attempt to control me. “I love you and I am sick again. For
these reasons, I have let you push me around, but I am not dead yet. I want
this trunk with me.”
“What can you possibly need in it? It’s just our artwork and other junk.”
If I had told him the truth long ago, or had danced and drunk and sung
more, maybe he would have seen me instead of a dependable, ordinary
mother. He loves a version of me that is incomplete. I always thought it was
what I wanted: to be loved and admired. Now I think perhaps I’d like to be
“Think of this as my last request.”
I can see that he wants to tell me not to talk that way, but he’s afraid his
voice will catch. He clears his throat. “You’ve beaten it twice before. You’ll
beat it again.”
We both know this isn’t true. I am unsteady and weak. I can neither
sleep nor eat without the help of medical science. “Of course I will.”
“I just want to keep you safe.”
I smile. Americans can be so naïve.
Once I shared his optimism. I thought the world was safe. But that was
a long time ago.
“Who is Juliette Gervaise?” Julien says and it shocks me a little to hear
that name from him.
I close my eyes and in the darkness that smells of mildew and bygone
lives, my mind casts back, a line thrown across years and continents.
Against my will— or maybe in tandem with it, who knows anymore?— I
Excerpted from Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Copyright © 2015 Kristin Hannah. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Kristin Hannah: The Nightingale
Sometimes a story sneaks up on you, hits you hard, and dares you to look away. That was the case with The Nightingale. In truth, I did everything I could not to write this novel. But when research on World War II led me to the story of a nineteen-year-old Belgian woman who had created an escape route out of Nazi-occupied France, I was hooked. I had read endless books on World War II, and still I didn't know this story; I didn't know that downed airmen had hiked over the frozen peaks of the Pyrenees Mountains in shoes that didn't fit, in clothes that weren't warm enough, with both the Germans and the Spanish patrols searching for them. The entire journey out of France and over the mountains was fraught with risk. As the war progressed and the Nazis learned of the escapes, the consequences to anyone caught aiding the escapees became deadly.
The woman who led them was named Andrée De Jongh and her story one of heroism and peril and unbridled courage became the starting point for my novel. I simply couldn't turn away. When I had read everything I could about Andrée, I dove into the stories of women who joined the Resistance in France. I found literally dozens of memoirs written by women who had become spies and couriers and helped to create the escape network.
These women were the action-star heroes of the time, but there were others, women with stories that were told in a quieter voice: women who hid Jewish children in their homes. These courageous women put themselves directly in harm's way to save others. Too many of them paid a terrible, unimaginable price for their heroism. They were, like so many women in wartime, largely forgotten after the war's end. There were no parades for them, very few medals, and almost no mention in the history books. It felt like an oversight to me, something that needed to be corrected. These women had risked their lives in a time when the smallest mistake could get one killed. They deserved to be understood and remembered.
Once the idea took root, I began as I always do: with research. It's really the research in any novel that informs the story. First I find out what has happened, and then I begin to extrapolate what could happen, and then I create a world that makes sense to me, an imaginary world firmly planted in truth. In this story, of course, the research was a daunting task. There was simply so much to know and understand. I started with the historical background of the war in Europe and then began to narrow my focus. My best information always comes from memoirs in this case, memoirs of women in the Resistance, downed airman who had escaped, and women who hid and rescued Jewish children.
Of course I took a few liberties it's fiction, after all but I did it all with an eye toward telling a story that felt as true as possible. I really felt a heavy burden to tell these stories well and honestly. Too many of them have been forgotten.
More and more, as I read about these brave women, I found myself consumed with a single, overwhelming question, as relevant today as it was seventy years ago: When would I, as a wife and mother, risk my life and more important, my child's life to save a stranger?
That question is at the very heart of The Nightingale.
A question that haunts me still.
From the Barnes & Noble Review, February 1, 2015