Kristin Hannah

In Her Own Words

My dad is almost eighty years old and last year he hiked the Amazon to see its source. We went to Africa six years ago and believe me, if he’d gone there as a young man, I would have grown up seeing elephants in my back yard. As it was, we left California in 1968 (flower decals on the side of our VW bus, curtains on the windows) and set out on a family adventure. My father tasked us all with finding the place that spoke to us. We found it in the Pacific Northwest.

Of course, for an adventurer like my father, no place can satisfy for long. Home for him is a state of mind, rather than an address. He goes where others don’t.

Not me. I don’t forge trails through jungles or climb mountains or jump out of airplanes. I follow the rules and wait my turn. The biggest risk I ever took was in daring to believe I could write novels.

Maybe that’s why I love stories of women who joined the Resistance during World War II. 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. 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 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.

It was a risk for me to write this novel. World War II. France. A sweeping historical epic told in an intimate way, about women. It isn’t what I’ve done before. But I had to do it.

All too often, women’s war stories are forgotten or overshadowed. I wanted to write a novel that remembered their sacrifice and courage while vividly showing what it was like to live in Occupied France during the war. When reading it, I hope the reader asks: What would I do?