The Nightingale was the #2 Top Club Pick of 2016 and continues to be absolutely beloved by book clubs.
This month, to celebrate its paperback release, we are lucky enough to have it as our Author of the Month giveaway & have Kristin Hannah answer a few questions for us about THE NIGHTINGALE.
6 Questions for Kristin Hannah
Do you have any personal experience with the Second World War—relatives living in France, or anywhere in Europe, during that the time? Family or friends who went to fight abroad? What inspired you to write about this chapter in history?
I do not have any personal experience with World War II. Maybe that’s why I love the stories of women who joined the Resistance during the war. They are powerful, compelling stories of ordinary women who became heroes, some at great personal cost.
I first came across the idea for The Nightingale years ago, when I was researching World War II Russia. When I read about an otherwise ordinary young Belgian woman who created an escape line for downed airman, I was mesmerized by her courage and resilience. Her story was the inspiration for Isabelle, but there were dozens of women who had equally compelling stories of courage and heroism and tragedy.
I knew I had to write a novel about the many women who became spies and couriers and risked their lives to save others during the war. And then there were the women who hid Jewish children in their homes. These courageous women put themselves directly in harm’s way. Many of them paid a terrible price for their heroism. As a mother, I found these stories impossible to ignore. And like so much of women’s history, the stories are largely ignored or overshadowed or forgotten.
Can you take readers into the process of writing this novel? What challenges did you face in terms of plotting and structure, for example?
Absolutely, the biggest challenge in writing this novel was weaving together the fictional and non-fictional worlds. Because the novel covers the entire war, it meant that every single scene had to be built upon what was actually happening, and to be honest, adhering to the factual timeline was a constant battle. I literally couldn’t write a sentence or a paragraph or a scene without consulting research material. On top of that, I wrote the first draft before going to France, so I couldn’t really own the landscape in my head; I couldn’t envision it. I couldn’t describe a tree or a road without researching it first. And then there was the burden of accurately capturing the sacrifice and heroism shown by the women of the Resistance. I thought about that all the time. These men and women had sacrificed so much for love and honor and duty; they’d risked their lives and their children’s lives to save others. I wanted to honor them and get their stories right.
Do you have a favorite scene from The Nightingale— a setting or incident that’s especially meaningful to you?
Honestly, there are so many parts and passages of this book that I love, but if I had to pick just one, I would say the scene where Isabelle and Gaëtan see each other again after the end of the war. I tend to be known for writing emotional books that make people cry, but I don’t often have that reaction to my work. I’m too focused on the individual sentences to feel the power of the whole, but that scene made me cry every time I read it—and I read it a lot. ☺
How did you approach the research into this setting and era? To what extent did you stick to the facts in writing The Nightingale? In what ways, if any, did you take artistic liberty?
I was terrified, plain and simple. I had never attempted a novel of such scope and importance. Everything about it was a risk: France. World War II. A sweeping historical epic told in an intimate way. A novel of war about women.
But 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 young Belgian woman who had created an escape route out of Nazi-occupied France, I was hooked.
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, and downed airman who had escaped, and women who hid and rescued Jewish children.
As far as complete accuracy and artistic license, 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.
In your research of WWII, what was the most interesting/ surprising/ shocking thing you learned?
I was continually amazed and awed at the risks ordinary French women took to keep their children safe and help strangers and preserve their way of life. And for women, it is rarely just our own life we are risking; it is our children’s lives. In the midst of such great horror, it must have been beyond terrifying to reach out to help someone.
What do you hope readers will learn from your own novel?
As I researched this book, 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 important, my child’s life—to save a stranger? That question is the very heart of The Nightingale. I hope readers will ask themselves that same question: What would I do?
Day 24 of our #book #adventcalendar: #2 in our Top Book Club Picks of 2016 countdown: “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.”–Kristin Hannah, THE NIGHTINGALE #bookclub #books #bookstagram #2016 @stmartinspress
#1 New York Times bestseller
Named a best book of the year by: Buzzfeed, iTunes, Library Journal, Paste, self.com, The Wall Street Journal, The Week
In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.
In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.
Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.
With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII 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.
“I loved Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale. She has captured a particular slice of French life during World War II with wonderful details and drama. But what I loved most about the novel was the relationship between the two sisters and Hannah’s exploration of what we do in moments of great challenge. Do we rise to the occasion or fail? Are we heroes or cowards? Are we loyal to the people we love most or do we betray them? Hannah explores these questions with probing finesse and great heart.”—Lisa See, #1 New York Times bestseller author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
“In this epic novel, set in France in World War II, two sisters who live in a small village find themselves estranged when they disagree about the imminent threat of occupation. Separated by principles and temperament, each must find her own way forward as she faces moral questions and life-or-death choices. Haunting, action-packed, and compelling.”—Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train