Excerpt from The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Nightingale

by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah X
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2015, 448 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2017, 592 pages

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On top is a yellowed, faded piece of paper.

My hands are shaking as I pick it up. It is a carte d'identité, an identity card, from the war. I see the small, passport- sized photo of a young woman. Juliette Gervaise.

"Mom?"

I hear my son on the creaking wooden steps, footsteps that match my heartbeats. Has he called out to me before?

"Mom? You shouldn't be up here. Shit. The steps are unsteady." He comes to stand beside me. "One fall and—"

I touch his pant leg, shake my head softly. I can't look up. "Don't" is all I can say.

He kneels, then sits. I can smell his aftershave, something subtle and spicy, and also a hint of smoke. He has sneaked a cigarette outside, a habit he gave up de cades ago and took up again at my recent diagnosis. There is no reason to voice my disapproval: He is a doctor. He knows better. My instinct is to toss the card into the trunk and slam the lid down, hiding it again. It's what I have done all my life.

Now I am dying. Not quickly, perhaps, but not slowly, either, and I feel compelled to look back on my life.

"Mom, you're crying."

"Am I?"

I want to tell him the truth, but I can't. It embarrasses and shames me, this failure. At my age, I should not be afraid of anything— certainly not my own past.

I say only, "I want to take this trunk."

"It's too big. I'll repack the things you want into a smaller box."

I smile at his attempt to control me. "I love you and I am sick again. For these reasons, I have let you push me around, but I am not dead yet. I want this trunk with me."

"What can you possibly need in it? It's just our artwork and other junk."

If I had told him the truth long ago, or had danced and drunk and sung more, maybe he would have seen me instead of a dependable, ordinary mother. He loves a version of me that is incomplete. I always thought it was what I wanted: to be loved and admired. Now I think perhaps I'd like to be known.

"Think of this as my last request."

I can see that he wants to tell me not to talk that way, but he's afraid his voice will catch. He clears his throat. "You've beaten it twice before. You'll beat it again."

We both know this isn't true. I am unsteady and weak. I can neither sleep nor eat without the help of medical science. "Of course I will."

"I just want to keep you safe."

I smile. Americans can be so naïve.

Once I shared his optimism. I thought the world was safe. But that was a long time ago.

"Who is Juliette Gervaise?" Julien says and it shocks me a little to hear that name from him.

I close my eyes and in the darkness that smells of mildew and bygone lives, my mind casts back, a line thrown across years and continents.

Against my will— or maybe in tandem with it, who knows anymore?— I remember.

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Excerpted from The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Copyright © 2015 by Kristin Hannah. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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