Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13 (ESV)
I rarely get to read anymore so when I do, I want a book that immediately pulls me into the story and keeps me there. A book with well-developed characters in whom I see a little of myself. That make me wonder, were I in their circumstances, would I act the same way that they do? I want a book that leaves me thinking and haunts my dreams at night and thoughts during the day. A book like that is dangerous in that it distracts me from my everyday life, from the housework and laundry that mount, from the dishes that soak in the sink, quilts that won’t sew themselves and a book of my own that needs to be written. All the while, I sit in a chair engrossed in a story that could be my own if I had been born in a different time and place. Last night, I stayed up way too late finishing The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah. Had I not known that the story was a fictional one, I would have thought I was reading an autobiography so carefully was it researched and so skillfully was it written. It read as though it were a true story told from the mouth of the women who lived it. Vivienne and Isabelle, two sisters, are so unalike that it is hard to believe they share the same parents. They come of age in France just before Hitler’s rise to power and live through the nightmare of World War II. Because they have such dissimilar personalities and lifestyles, they approach the war with different attitudes. They both suffer greatly, experiencing terrible losses, but in the end, in their own unique ways, they become heroines, rescuing orphaned Jewish children or leading downed allied pilots to safety. As a historian, I know that real women filled those roles during the war and that knowledge made the book even more realistic. Though love wins over hatred in the end (it is fiction after all), both women must face the consequences of their choices. The evil they experienced impacts the rest of their lives. As I read the stories of innocent people murdered and incarcerated, of entire villages being wiped out, of children being wrenched from their parents’ arms, and of neighbors turning against neighbors out of fear and religious differences, I could not help but think of the world that we live in today. It would be very easy to get depressed over each day’s news headlines particularly the evil that is dominating the Middle East and Africa. In torturous fashion, evil’s followers are creating a new regime determined to rule and extinguish hope and kindness. It is hard not to imagine that evil lurking at my own door. Yet, there are women and men who risk sacrificing their own lives in the name of justice and mercy. As I did when reading The Nightingale, I cannot help but wonder, were I in their shoes, would I do the same?