The Nightingale is a historical fiction novel, written by Kristin Hannah and published in 2015. It tells the story of two sisters, just coming of age in France on the eve of World War II, and their struggle to survive and resist the German occupation of France. It was inspired by the story of a Belgian woman, Andrée de Jongh, who helped downed Allied pilots to escape Nazi territory. The book sold well, earning places on several bestseller lists, and was optioned for a screen adaptation by TriStar Pictures in March 2015.
The book uses the frame story literary device; the frame is presented in first-person narration as the remembrances of an elderly woman in 1995, whose name is initially not revealed to the reader. The main action of the book, however, is told in third person, following two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, who live in France around 1940, on the eve of World War II. The two are estranged from each other and their father, and the book follows the two different paths they take.
Vianne, a schoolteacher who is married and has a child, must endure the drafting and subsequent capture of her husband Antoine, the occupation of France by the Germans after the Battle of France, and the struggle against starvation and cold for herself and her daughter. They must deal with the poor rations of food that they can procure under the Nazi system, the billeting of Wehrmacht and SS officers at her home, and the increasing persecution of the Jews in the town; while Vianne's only priority at first is survival for herself and her daughter Sophie, she eventually starts to shelter Jewish children from the purge, adopting the three-year-old Ari, the son of her best friend Rachel after she was deported to a concentration camp and hiding nineteen more children in a nearby abbey's orphanage. When the war ends, Vianne's husband returns from the POW camp, but she must still cope with the aftermath of the occupation—she is pregnant with a child from her rape at the hands of the billeted SS officer, and Ari, whom she has come to love as a son, is taken away to be raised by his cousins in the US.
Isabelle, younger and more impetuous than Vianne and with no other family to protect, decides to take an active role in resisting the occupation. She joins the French Resistance, initially tasked with distributing anti-Nazi propaganda. After moving to a cell in Paris, she develops a plan to help downed Allied airmen escape to the British embassy in neutral Spain, where they can be repatriated. She is successful, and with support from other Resistance operators (including her father, with whom she begins to rebuild a relationship) and the British MI9, this becomes her primary task throughout the war. She earns the code name "Nightingale", and is actively hunted by the Nazis. She is eventually captured, and after her father falsely confesses to being the Nightingale to save her, she is sent to a concentration camp in Germany. She undergoes hellish conditions at the camp, but survives long enough to see the end of the war. She makes her way to Vianne, and they reconcile and read their father's last letter to them before Isabelle dies from her mistreatment.
The book concludes with the elderly narrator, revealed to be Vianne, receiving an invitation to an event in Paris to remember her sister, "The Nightingale". She travels with her son Julien, the product of the rape by the SS officer who nevertheless has been fully loved by both Vianne and Antoine. Julien has never been told of his family's activities during the war. After the event, she has an emotional reunion with Ari, and she comes to peace with her memories of the war.
The characters in The Nightingale are not themselves real people, but some of their actions are based on those of real historical figures. Isabelle's escape route over the Pyrenees for downed Allied airmen was based on that of the 19-year-old Andrée de Jongh, a Belgian woman who helped hundreds of aviators escape. Much like Isabelle, de Jongh personally escorted many over the Pyrenees on foot; by the end of the war, she had done so for 118. Also like Isabelle, de Jongh was captured late in the war and sent to the Ravensbrück concentration camp rather than executed, as the Nazis disbelieved her assertion that she was herself the organizer of the route. However, de Jongh lived on long after the war, becoming a countess in 1985 and eventually dying in 2007, whereas in the novel Isabelle dies from the camp conditions not long after the war ends. Other historical figures mentioned include the World War I nurse Edith Cavell.
Reviews of the book were generally positive. A review published by Kirkus Reviews said that "[Hannah's] tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale...Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner." The novel also sold well: it spent 45 weeks on the NPR Hardcover Fiction Bestseller List and 20 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
The book was optioned in March 2015 by TriStar Pictures for screen adaptation, with Ann Peacock to write and Elizabeth Cantillon to produce. In August 2016 it was announced that Michelle MacLaren will direct the film.