10 books like The Nightingale to read next
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The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah was on my TBR the longest. Spurred on by the news of the book being made into a movie, I finally took the time to read it. I tore the book up, although I found the language a bit repetitive and the narrative lacking in emotional depth. I was invested in the stories of the two protagonists, Vianne and her sister Isabelle, as they struggled to survive in occupied France. For I, like many other readers, am a fan of stories of women’s courage and resilience during war – stories that are largely ignored by mainstream history. It made me think of other books like The Nightingalewith the same themes and styles, which offer a more nuanced view of the war.
Here I have collected a list of some of these books like The Nightingaleincluding non-fiction books about the lives of unlikely WWII heroines – resistance fighters and spies that contrast with The Nightingale obsession with the blonde beauty of its protagonist Isabelle. I’ve also included other compelling historical fiction that offers unique insights into devastating military and political conflicts.
The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos by Judy Batalion
It is a chronicle of the extraordinary courage of Jewish resistance fighters hitherto absent from historical accounts despite the proliferation of writings on the Holocaust and the Second World War. These young women transported supplies, pamphlets, and weapons to ghettos, sparking and sustaining Jewish resistance, despite the great danger it posed to their own lives.
Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan by Shrabani Basu
Noor Inayat Khan was from an Indian royal family and grew up in England and France. Although she was raised in the non-violent Sufi tradition, she joined the Special Operations Executive during World War II. She was sent to occupied France as a wireless operator to aid the French Resistance. This is a biography of this unlikely and unsung heroine of World War II.
Codenamed Verity by Elizabeth Wein
This book tells the story of two young women, a pilot and a spy, who meet and become friends during the First World War. It’s a story of friendship amidst horrific adversity, and it doesn’t shy away from the grit and grime of war – or the immensity of the sacrifices it demands. This popular YA novel is nuanced and heartbreaking, and just as unmistakable as The Nightingale.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, like The Nightingale, takes place in France during the German occupation. It follows a blind Parisian girl and a German boy who is recruited by the Nazis. Come to this book for its gripping setting and compelling plot, but stay for the beautiful prose in short chapters that unfold through different time periods and different viewpoints.
Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
This book, as The Nightingale, takes place during World War II in Europe. The perspective it offers is new – that of the members of a jazz band. Musician Hieronymus Falk, a black German citizen, disappears after being arrested in a cafe. Fifty years later, his former bandmate, Sid, gets his hands on a mysterious letter that reveals long-buried secrets about his disappearance.
A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of Virginia Hall, World War II’s Most Dangerous Spy by Sonia Purnell
After Virginia Hall was rejected for the US Foreign Service because of her gender and her prosthetic leg, she became an Allied spy in occupied France. Her audacity and skill soon led the Gestapo to call her “the most dangerous of Allied spies”. Sonia Purnell Biography is a well-researched and well-written account of the life of this extraordinary woman.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Isabelle’s perilous journeys through the Pyrenees are an integral part of The Nightingale. Colson Whitehead’s novel, set in pre-war America, is about an enslaved person, Cora, who escapes using the Underground Railroad, reimagined as an actual railroad in the novel , and it offers a similar celebration of hope and resilience. Only, because of her race, Cora’s ordeal doesn’t end with a successful escape to Southern California. She is hunted by a ruthless slave hunter and must embark on a dangerous journey through different states in the relentless pursuit of freedom.
The Time in Between by María Dueñas, translated by Daniel Hahn
This book, originally written in Spanish, is about a talented Spanish seamstress named Sira, who is recruited by the British to spy on them during World War II. The narrative is incredibly detailed, yet engaging, and the backdrop of WWII Morocco and Spain comes to life within the pages of the book.
Code Talker: A Novel About World War II Navajo Marines by Joseph Bruchac
Navajo code speakers were recruited during World War II to aid the American war effort by transmitting messages in an unbreakable code in their language. This book follows a 16-year-old Navajo boy who becomes a code talker and sheds light on an important, but little known, part of WWII history.
Rilla of Ingleside by LM Montgomery
The Nightingale also speaks of the women who were left to care for their families amid the uncertainties of war. The final book in the Anne of Green Gables series, and one of my favorite books of all time, is a beautiful depiction of domestic life during the war. Set in Canada during World War I, it follows Anne’s youngest daughter, Rilla. As her siblings leave home to join the war effort as soldiers and nurses, Rilla must grow up overnight, facing constant anxiety and new responsibilities.
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