I finished Kristen Hannah's The Nightingale on Saturday. It was amazing.
I wish I'd never opened to page one.
I do this all the time. Someone tells me a book is good, so I get it and read it and hate myself halfway through. You see, it makes me emotionally sick to read how awful people in groups can be to those they decide to hate. I had my fill of reading about it long ago, with The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and Mila 18 and all those beautifully horrible books that show what happens when a group is targeted for something like their religion.
I don't need to be reminded, I tell myself. I learned all that long ago, and I hate getting involved with characters who aren't going to find a happy ending. You can call me overly sensitive (my husband does), but for me it isn't just a story if things like that really happened--still happen.
It's a reminder that people can get together and decide one part of society is somehow not deserving of being treated with respect. Once they believe that, they allow the worst parts of themselves to have free rein, because "they" deserve it. Apparently it's fairly easy to convince large numbers of people of this, usually by repeating lies until those who won't think for themselves, those who are desperate to think they're "better" than someone else, believe them.
The other part of it is making those who might stand up for the targeted group afraid to do so, lest they, too, lose freedom, rights, and loved ones.
In principle, I hate reading books that describe this situation so clearly that I feel like I'm experiencing it myself. In The Nightingale, I identified with both sisters' struggle against the Nazis. I wanted a happy ending for them, but I knew happy couldn't possibly come out of it. When people are encouraged to hate, they become less and less human. The worst elements of society rise to the top, and the "good people" just try to stay out of their way.
When I see those same elements at work in the world right now, I know that we have to remind ourselves not to let hatred of any segment of society overcome our humanity. We have to see how helpless individuals become when government sanctions mistreatment of any group.
I hate it, but when it's done as well as Ms. Hannah does it, I
see that it isn't a story. It's our future if we don't remain vigilant.
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