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Why Kristin Hannah’s New Novel, ‘The Women,’ Is Her Favorite

The dramatic story highlights nurses’ unsung service during the Vietnam War

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One of this winter’s most anticipated fiction releases is The Women, a novel set during the Vietnam era. Why is it so hot? It’s by Kristin Hannah, 63, the author of giant bestsellers such as 2021’s The Four Winds and the cinematic World War II–era novel The Nightingale (2015). The latter was a fixture on The New York Times’ bestseller list for 86 weeks, and it’s being adapted for film, with sisters Elle and Dakota Fanning set to star.

The Women (Feb. 6) takes place during the political tumult of the 1960s, when Frances “Frankie” McGrath, a sheltered young nursing student, joins the Army Nurse Corps and follows her brother to Vietnam. Her experience at war is eye-opening and often terrifying, leaving her with emotional wounds not soon healed after she returns home to face disrespect and such comments as “There are no women in Vietnam, dear.”

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Warner Bros. has already snapped up the movie rights.

Hannah spoke with us from her home on Washington’s Bainbridge Island about her new novel and how aging has brought out the best in her.

Why did you choose to focus on the Vietnam era?

It really cast a huge shadow over my childhood. I was in elementary school for most of the war, and one of my good friends, her father was shot down. I think I was about 10 when I got a POW bracelet with his name on it and waited for him to return. He never did. It was something that I wanted to write about for a very, very long time.

Why now?

During the pandemic, I was in lockdown watching the news and seeing our medical personnel — nurses and doctors — and how hard they were working and how exhausted they were. And somehow it all just clicked together for me, that the nurses were the story that I wanted to tell about Vietnam.

What was the writing process like?

It was a lot of research. A lot of digging in and reading accounts of the time — memoirs and nurses’ stories, doctors’ stories, soldiers’ stories — and putting it all together. My job as a novelist is to take all of these disparate facts and all of these different stories and pull them together into a single narrative that hopefully transports the reader to this different time and puts you in the shoes of a character — in this case, a nurse — who will lead you through her experiences and teach you something as well as entertain.

What was the most challenging part of writing this novel?

It was really important for me to write this story in a way that the veterans would say that I had done a good job. Diane Carlson Evans, founder of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation and a nurse during the war, was just invaluable in talking to me about what her experiences were like and what other women’s experiences were like when they were over there. I wanted to shine a light on these women and their service, which had really been, I think, in large part forgotten or overlooked.

How’s The Nightingale movie coming along?

It’s had considerable bad luck. It was a week from starting filming in March of 2020 when COVID hit and the world stopped, so they had to pull back on filming. And then when they were ready to film again, it was the writers’ strike and then the actors’ strike [last summer]. It’s a tough and challenging film to make, but I really think we have the right team to do it now. I’ve read an amazing script. I’ve got my fingers crossed. 

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What is your favorite of all your novels?

The Women, and I think that’s going to last because these women [who were nurses in Vietnam] are so amazing and they’re still alive and I want them to read this. But The Nightingale is a close second.

Any thoughts on growing older?

As a writer, I find that I just have so much more to say now. I’m more secure in my opinions and less concerned with what other people think or say or do, and I’m a lot more confident in my skill sets and my vision than when I was younger. Plus, just simply to have lived more, traveled more, loved more — it makes you a fuller, rounder, more confident person.

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