'The Nightingale' Explores Women's Lives in the French Resistance

May 3, 2017

It has been nearly 72 years since the end of World War II. The youngest veterans of that war are entering their 90s and in the time since, history books, movies. and novels have told the story of the war from many different angles. And yet, there are many stories we haven’t heard.

That was part of the reason for the success of Kristin Hannah’s 2015 novel, The Nightingale. It told the story of two regular women - sisters Vianne and Isabelle - who lived through World War II in occupied France. Although they were both involved in resisting the occupation, their lives were very different. 

The bestselling book just came out in paperback, and the author recently visited Milwaukee for a talk at the Elm Grove Woman’s Club. The book looks at the hard decisions ordinary people must make in extraordinary times.

"What I was trying to show is you're living through it day-by-day, and you have to make a series of decisions. Some of which feel monumental at the time and some of which feel less monumental, and you don't really know until history plays out, what those decisions are going to mean to you and your family." 

Hannah says that she was trying to tackle a big question in the book about the nature of sacrifice in the face of profound adversity. "When do you make this decision to risk your own life, or your child's life, for a stranger?" She asks. "And I think that [question is] really the heart of the book."