I’m a pretty outspoken feminist who is always looking for books about awesome women by women because why not (but also because women’s stories are typically not recorded in history, especially not by women themselves. Moreover, they are not appreciated and celebrated nearly as often as male stories which is absolute bs. Your mini feminist rant for the day). Last summer an English professor at Juniata College, posted on Facebook about an amazing book she recently read and suggested if everyone has the time to give it a try. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah was her pick and wow is it a pick!
Who is Kristen Hannah:
Kristen Hannah is an award winning author who has published over twenty novels. She began her career as a lawyer but shortly after, switched to writing full-time. Firefly Lane was Hannah’s first bestseller in 2009, taking women by the heartstrings. In 2015, The Nightingale was published and it was a show stopper. Seven different organizations/publications listed Hannah’s novel as “best book of the year”. Kristen Hannah’s writing largely covers female stories, ranging from Firefly Lane which depicts a beautiful friendship between two women, to The Nightingale, a historical fiction piece telling the powerful story of a woman’s role in France during WWII. In an interview about The Nightingale, Kristen Hannah says,
“Quite simply, the heroism of the women of the French Resistance captured my imagination. For years, I collected their stories, read their accounts. Then I tossed the magic words into the mix — what if — and I was off and running”Kristen Hannah
(Follow this link for the full interview)
Fun fact about Kristen Hannah: She dog ears her books (*I cringed while writing that)
What it is about:
Set in France 1939, readers follow Vianne Mauriac and Isabelle Rossignol, and their heroic acts during WWII. The sisters work together to save Jewish children from being sent to concentration camps by hiding them in their own home and at a local church. They eventually help allied pilots escape Nazi occupied France by leading them to safety in Spain after navigating the treacherous Pyrenees mountain range.
The story does not start out with this clear level of resistance. Vianne and Isabelle as sisters and characters represent opposites in the beginning. Vianne is a rule follower and likes to go with the status quo; whereas, Isabelle is a force of change and independence. Both sisters guide and lead the resistance in their own unique ways. Vianne, the rule follower, admits a Nazi soldier officer into her home while him and his cohorts take control of the small town, Carriveau, France. When her best friend’s family is put at risk, Vianne begins her escapade to hide Jewish children by forging their birth papers and bringing them to a local Catholic orphanage. Isabelle on the other hand, is more adamant to be a part of the war itself so she creates and executes plans to help downed allied pilots escape France.
Both women fought against the Nazis in their own special way; both brought great change and saved lives. The best part about this book is that it was inspired by true stories.
“…even more daunting was the responsibility I felt toward the women of the Resistance…These courageous women also 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 at a time when the smallest mistake could get one killed.”Kristen Hannah
Why Everyone Should Give it a Read:
Women’s accomplishments have been consistently ignored and pushed to the side throughout history. Writers like Kristen Hannah are coming forward with megaphones and creating space for stories like Andrée De Jongh’s (the woman who inspired The Nightingale). The stories are to be shared and recognized for the woman’s intuition, resilience, and courage. By reading novels like The Nightingale, we are celebrating powerful women and creating more space for amazing female mentors for our children to look up to.
Hannah’s novel has been out for a few years, so some of you may have already read it; if so, leave a comment below about your favorite part of the novel! If not, give it a try!
As my Instagram followers know, The Nightingale made me cry, not once, but three times on a public train in two days’ time (at the end, I was sitting on a train smiling and balling at the same time so I probably didn’t look too cute)…Kristen Hannah sure knows how to make a gal feel all sorts of feelings.
“As I researched, I found myself consumed by a single, haunting question, as relevant today as it was seventy years ago: When would I, as a wife and mother, risk my life — and more importantly, my child’s life — to save a stranger? That question is the very heart of The Nightingale.”Kristen Hannah
How Jennifer Garner looked at the end of The Office is how I looked on a public train at the end of The Nightingale. It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything’s fine.