The Nightingale explores the stories of two sisters living in Nazi-occupied France and their involvement in the Resistance, a movement that swept through the nation of France following the German occupation through the end of the war. The Resistance was comprised of communist resistance groups, groups that took orders from the Special Operations Executive, groups loyal to General Charles de Gaulle, a military general who encouraged the French to continue the fight against Germany even after the occupation began. The fight was carried out in numerous forms, from violent attacks against the Germans to the publication of secret resistance newspapers and the broadcast of anti-German radio programs. While initially unorganized, many resistance groups merged together in 1943 to form the Conseil National de la Resistance, which allowed the goals of the resistance to consolidate.
A key role of the Resistance was the smuggling of fallen British and American fighter pilots across the border into free Spain, allowing them to escape the gruesome fates of imprisonment in concentration camps or death at the hands of the Nazis who found them. It is this aspect of the resistance that we most clearly see in The Nightingale, as well as the hiding of Jewish children to protect them from the Nazis, an act of resistance that led to the salvation of several thousand Jews over the course of the Holocaust.
Hannah was inspired to write the novel after research led her to the story of a nineteen-year-old Belgian woman who led fallen airmen out of France and into Spain, which led her into further research about the women of France who joined the Resistance while the men were away. The main goal of the story was to pay homage to the women who risked their lives and those of their families to save those in danger during the war, and to sing their stories when so many forget them.
The novel won the Audie Award for Fiction in 2016 and the Goodreads Choice Award for Historical Fiction in 2015.