The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is a work of historical fiction set in France during the Second World War.
It follows the lives of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, as they use their own strengths and resources to survive in the face of Nazi occupation.
What makes this novel so interesting to read is that it showcases the strength and courage of women in times of war, which is an aspect of history often neglected in wartime fiction.
The Nightingale has enjoyed a great deal of success since its publication in 2015. Not only is it a New York Times bestseller, but it was named Goodreads’ Best Book of 2015 and it’s also being adapted into a major motion picture.
In 2023, readers who loved the book will be able to watch this poignant story of love and bravery unfold on the big screen.
If you can’t wait for the movie, though, the good news is that there are several books similar to The Nightingale that you can enjoy in the meantime!
If you loved Kristin Hannah’s portrayal of the women’s war in The Nightingale, you’ll also enjoy The Book Thief, Lilac Girls, Winter Garden, All the Light We Cannot See, and The Only Woman in the Room. Plus, the many other similar books we’ve uncovered for you below.
Check out our recommendations to find your next favorite wartime fiction novel.
Themes In The Nightingale
Love And Death
The threads of love interwoven throughout this novel give the reader a sense of hope, and since many of the main characters’ decisions are motivated by love, this theme also serves to move the plot forward.
At the same time, the shadow of death in the context of war looms large, threatening the very relationships that the novel’s readers have grown attached to.
There is no shortage of wartime historical fiction told from the perspective of male soldiers, but part of what makes The Nightingale such a powerful story is the fact that it centralizes women and gender roles during the Second World War.
Isabelle’s storyline is based on the life of wartime heroine Andrėe de Jongh. Meanwhile, the character of Vianne reflects the real lives of mothers who made unimaginable sacrifices for their children during the war.
Strength And Bravery
The themes of strength and bravery are an aspect of the women’s war that Hannah focuses on throughout the novel.
Both Isabelle and Vianne display enormous courage and fortitude throughout their stories, and the novel demonstrates how these qualities can manifest in more than one way.
Secrecy And Betrayal
In times of war, the ability to keep a secret can mean the difference between life and death, and this is shown several times throughout The Nightingale.
However, as Isabelle’s betrayal by her love interest makes clear, secrets can also be detrimental.
The treatment of secrets in The Nightingale forces readers to confront the concept of secrecy as a force for both good and bad.
Books Like The Nightingale
The Book Thief By Markus Zusak
Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is one of the most celebrated works of wartime historical fiction. Find the book here.
If you loved The Nightingale’s treatment of women’s experiences in war, you’ll fall in love with this moving and ultimately tragic story of one girl’s displacement and coming of age in Nazi Germany.
When Liesel, a young German girl, is sent to live with foster parents during the Second World War, she befriends a Jewish man concealed in the basement of her new home.
Upon discovering that those in political power are destroying books, she begins to steal and read them.
Liesel’s newfound friendships and love of reading lead her to new perspectives on life, love, and death as she grows into adolescence during one of history’s darkest eras.
- The unique and expertly-written narrative voice
- Moving and gripping storyline
- Relatable, likable characters
- A tragic story that may upset some readers
Themes: War, Childhood, Adolescence, Coming of Age, Love and Friendship, Secrets, Literature, Politics, Death.
Lilac Girls By Martha Hall Kelly
Like The Nightingale, Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is based on a real woman’s story of survival and strength during the Second World War.
The novel tells three different stories: that of Caroline, a New York Socialite; Kasia, a teenager from Poland working for the resistance; and Herta, a German doctor.
Despite how different these women’s lives appear, Kelly weaves a narrative that demonstrates how love, hope, and courage connect people from all walks of life in the most harrowing of times.
- Based on true lives and events
- Explores lesser-known wartime perspectives
- Perfect for lovers of emotional stories
- Many readers find Caroline’s narrative less interesting than the others
Themes: Womanhood, War, Gender Roles, Friendship, Survival, Motherhood, Love, Resistance, Politics, Human Rights, Mental Health.
Winter Garden By Kristin Hannah
Winter Garden is also partly set during the Second World War, and it also centers around the lives of women in war.
However, the narrative goes back and forth between the life of Anya during the Siege of Leningrad (1941 – 1944) and the perspectives of her daughters, Nina and Meredith, in the year 2000.
In this way, the novel explores the continued impact of the war on families decades after the cease-fire. In particular, it shows how the generational trauma inflicted by the war leaves its mark on mother-daughter relationships.
- Haunting, immersive narrative
- Delves into complex themes like trauma and healing
- The masterful use of the Russian fairytale motif
- Slow to pick up the pace
Themes: War, Family, Trauma, Womanhood, Mother-Daughter Relationships, Storytelling, Fairytales and Fables, Secrets, Betrayal.
All The Light We Cannot See By Anthony Doerr
Not only is it a #1 New York Times Bestseller, but it is so beloved by readers that it is currently being adapted for the small screen.
Like The Nightingale, this novel takes place during the Second World War. The narrative is split between two protagonists: Marie-Laure, a young French girl, and Werner Pfennig, a German orphan.
The stories of these two young people intertwine in profound and unexpected ways.
- Beautiful, lyrical prose
- The uplifting and hopeful tone
- Deep and thought-provoking exploration of the human condition
- The short chapters can feel disjointed at times
Themes: War, Childhood, Hope, Survival, Knowledge, Technology, Family, Love, Politics, History, Memory.
The Only Woman In The Room By Marie Benedict
For those readers who loved Kristin Hannah’s centralization of women’s roles in war and resistance, The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict will be a perfect read.
The Only Woman in the Room is based on the true story of Hedy Lamarr, who is remembered as a beautiful film star, but whose scientific knowledge (something which has only recently come to light) was significant in the Austrian resistance against the Nazis.
- Based on a true and fascinating story
- Fast-moving and riveting plot
- Believable character portrayals that spark empathy
- Some historical inaccuracies in the plot
Themes: War, Politics, Secrets, Gender Roles, Beauty, Knowledge, Power, Adversity, Identity, Marriage, Career.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This novel is set in the turbulence of 1960s Nigeria. It follows the separation in Nigeria between the Nigerian population and the Nigerian Igbo population who attempted to form their own state called Biafra.
Half of a Yellow Sun illuminates this war in great detail, one that is not typically known or talked about. This story tells of love, betrayal, hope, and survival and is a fantastic choice if you’re looking to expand your knowledge of African history and read a brilliantly gripping and emotive novel about the lives of individuals.
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Before We Were Yours is based on one of America’s most well-known scandals in which the director of an orphanage in Memphis kidnapped and sold poorer children to wealthy couples.
Set in 1939 Tennessee, five siblings live in a shanty boat on the Mississippi River. When their parents have to rush to the hospital, they are kidnapped by strangers. Wingate brings a brilliantly written, eye-opening, and emotive account of life as one of these children.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
From the brilliant writer who brought us The Kite Runner, is this superb novel about Afghan history.
A Thousand Splendid Suns follows the lives of Mariam and Laila who have different interests and life paths but have a deep-rooted bond, one that will come to affect the lives of their descendants too.
This is a heartbreaking story of self-sacrifice and survival, guaranteed to alter your perception.
The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer
Like The Nightingale, this novel is set during the Second World War and follows the lives of those still trapped in the horrors of war-torn Warsaw.
It follows a classic love story, interpolates the immorality of Nazi rule, and serves as a shocking reminder of the horrors of this war.
The Things We Cannot Say is a brilliantly personal story that will most likely provoke tears!
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
This is a popular book that has been made into a film adaptation of the same name starring Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Emma Stone.
It is a jarring story about the realities of living as a Black maid in 1960s America. It is brilliantly educational and heartbreaking, a real page-turner.
The Help is an excellent book aimed to shed light on the often overlooked perspectives of Black maids and demonstrates how their lives were manipulated by white supremacy and racial inequality.
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Written by the same author as The Nightingale, The Great Alone is an excellently written book providing an insight into the life of a veteran of the Vietnam War.
Set in the isolation of Alaska, this novel intertwines his fragile life with the turbulence of family life and the experiences of adolescence.
The Great Alone is jam-packed with psychological detail, delving into every character and their weaknesses. A gripping must-read for anyone interested in historical fiction or psychology.
The Forest of Vanishing Stars by Kristen Harmel
This novel follows an intriguing concept, focusing on the life of a girl who was kidnapped from her wealthy lifestyle in Germany and is now alone, confused, and scared in rural Eastern Europe after the death of her kidnapper.
When she finally makes her way back to Nazi-occupied Germany, she is stunned to find that Jews are being persecuted and are fleeing.
The Forest of Vanishing Stars is another story of survival and trauma. It intertwines the life of a German who has experienced pain and suffering at the hands of someone else. She is one of the few Germans that can sympathize with the persecution of Jews, but what will she do about it?
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Following the real-life concept of the Alice network who resisted German occupation during World War I and helped Allied officers evacuate to Holland, this novel with the same name nosedives into the personal lives of these unsung heroes.
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Set in the Vietnamese city of Saigon in the 1970s, The Sympathizer follows the brave individuals who tried to escape the country in search of a peaceful life in America.
This novel follows the captain, who has familial and personal ties to Vietnam and feels passionate about fighting for Vietnamese freedom. The Sympathizer is a brilliantly gripping novel that delves into espionage, politics, and ideology.
The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris
This novel is set in Georgia at the end of the Civil War. Two brothers, freed by emancipation, stay with the Walkers, willing to take them on as workers.
But as the novel develops an unexpected bond grows between these two parties, as the Walkers struggle to grieve their son who died in the war.
This story runs parallel to another: the story of an outlawed relationship between two young Confederate soldiers.
Set in the turbulence of post-war America, The Sweetness of Water creates a fantastically gripping novel based on the characters’ personalities and relationships.
As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner
As Philadelphia grieves the men lost in the Great War, the Spanish Flu arrives, claiming over 12,000 lives.
This novel follows a family who came to America in 1918 in search of a new life but instead was met with disease, tragedy, and death. As Bright As Heaven is an extremely personal story that gives an accurate representation of the state of American lives during this period.
White Houses by Amy Bloom
White Houses dives into the fictionalized personal life of Franklin Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor.
In 1932, Lorena began reporting on the presidential campaign and became close friends with Eleanor. She is soon invited to live at the White House as a ‘first friend’, but is their relationship platonic? And has Lorena got herself in too deep?
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This novel has been a favorite since its release in 2018. Social media helped it gain credibility and thanks to the positive reception, the book has been decorated with a plethora of awards.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo follows the life of Hollywood star Evelyn Hugo who decides it is time to tell her detailed, scandalous life story.
Perfect for gossip lovers and brilliant for historical fiction fans too, this book is a must-read for any reader!
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Desperate and alone, Jacob finds himself joining the circus to earn money. Water for Elephants is the beautiful story of his integration into this group, uncovering the personal lives of each of these people, and introducing him to Rosie, the troublesome, untrainable elephant.
White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht
White Chrysanthemum follows the stories of two sisters who have lived under Japanese occupation their whole lives. They get separated by the influence of World War II and are forced into various scenarios.
It is a heartbreaking, realistic tale of suffering, sacrifice, and force that intertwines history with the Korean present.
Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira
Set in 1879 following one of the most devastating blizzards seen in New York history, Winter Sisters features the search for two missing orphaned girls.
One surgeon takes it upon herself to look for these two poor girls but must face the power of the system and the disregard of the public to succeed.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Everyone Brave is Forgiven interpolates race, war, and love to create a brilliant historical fiction novel set in 1939 London.
A young girl, the descendant of a high-profile political family, joins the war effort much to her family’s dismay. Her job introduces her to emotional and turbulent Tom, whose love has just enlisted in the war. But when she and Tom grow closer, she finds herself wrapped up in a love triangle without even realizing it.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is undoubtedly one of the best historical fiction novels to be written in recent years.
In particular, it is one of the most moving and thought-provoking wartime narratives due to its focus on the less-acknowledged roles of women during the Second World War.
In The Nightingale, Hannah showcases the different kinds of courage, strength, and resistance exhibited by women during this period of the twentieth century.
This is something that Martha Hall Kelly and Marie Benedict also do in their fact-based historical fiction novels, Lilac Girls and The Only Woman in the Room.
Hannah explores the reality of the Second World War for women once again, as well as the traumatic generational aftermath of war, in Winter Garden.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr specifically look at World War II through the eyes of children, exploring what it meant to come of age in a time of conflict and turbulence.
Readers who fell in love with the story of The Nightingale will do so again with these incredible stories of love, courage, resistance, hope, and survival.
Frequently Asked Questions
u003cstrongu003eIs The Nightingale Based On A True Story?u003c/strongu003e
The character of Isabelle in The Nightingale is based on the real-life of Andrée Jongh, who helped nearly 200 downed aviators to flee from the Nazi territory.
u003cstrongu003eWhat Age Group Is The Nightingale Aimed At?u003c/strongu003e
The Nightingale is a book written for adults. Because it deals with some mature and distressing themes, it is not suitable for children under 16.
u003cstrongu003eDoes u003cemu003eThe Nightingaleu003c/emu003e Have A Happy Ending?u003c/strongu003e
Although The Nightingale is upsetting in places, the ending is largely positive, albeit very emotional.
u003cstrongu003eIs u003cemu003eThe Nightingale u003c/emu003eeasy to read?u003c/strongu003e
The language should not be a problem for most readers, however, the themes are harsh and some of the descriptions may be triggering.
u003cstrongu003eWhat is a historical fiction book?u003c/strongu003e
Any fictionalized tale set in a real historical time period. This could be in any country and at any time in the past and frequently features significant historical events or figures.
u003cstrongu003eWhat’s the difference between a historical novel and historical fiction?u003c/strongu003e
Historical novels aim to the as accurate as possible, whereas historical fiction just uses a historical setting as a baseline for the story.