Hello and Happy French Friday!
Coming at you this week with a fabulous read – a beautifully written historical fiction novel set in before, during and after World War II.
From the publisher:
Paris, 1939: Young mothers Elise and Juliette become fast friends the day they meet in the beautiful Bois de Boulogne. Though there is a shadow of war creeping across Europe, neither woman suspects that their lives are about to irrevocably change.
When Elise becomes a target of the German occupation, she entrusts Juliette with the most precious thing in her life—her young daughter, playmate to Juliette’s own little girl. But nowhere is safe in war, not even a quiet little bookshop like Juliette’s Librairie des Rêves, and, when a bomb falls on their neighborhood, Juliette’s world is destroyed along with it.
More than a year later, with the war finally ending, Elise returns to reunite with her daughter, only to find her friend’s bookstore reduced to rubble—and Juliette nowhere to be found. What happened to her daughter in those last, terrible moments? Juliette has seemingly vanished without a trace, taking all the answers with her. Elise’s desperate search leads her to New York—and to Juliette—one final, fateful time.
The overarching theme of this novel, apart from that of the war, is motherhood. What makes a good mother? Do a mother’s choices at a certain time in her life define her forever? We see both Elise and Juliette (and “secondary” character, Ruth Levy) faced with impossible choices all the way through the book. War changes people.
We meet Elise and Juliette when both are pregnant and they bond over their pregnancies and later, their daughters become as fast friends as the mothers. Elise is welcomed into Juliette’s family and spends time with them to avoid her unhappy marital situation (and a husband who was disappointed their child was female). Elise’s husband is active politically, increasingly so as the war looms, and ultimately suffers for his views; Elise, concerned for her own and her daughter’s welfare as the war progresses, is forced to make a choice that no parent wants to but which is the only one that will keep her daughter safe.
Elise manages to survive the war by fleeing Paris, returning after it is over to find Juliette’s family and their family business are no more. Juliette and her daughter survived a bombing of the neighbourhood but are nowhere to be found. Elise tracks them down to New York and makes the trek there to reconnect and hopefully learn more about her daughter’s last months/ days. But there’s a twist at the end that I was not expecting and a denouement that will take your breath away.
I LOVED this book and finished it in just a couple of days. The characters are so well-developed and the book is very well-researched. At times it’s not easy to read – it depicts the atrocities of war in a very real way. It’s an uncomfortable reminder of our not-so-distant history; times that should not be repeated. Harmel mentions she spent a lot of time trying to imagine for herself what it would be like to live under the constant threat of bombs as she wrote the book. Just as she was finishing the first draft of the book, the situation in Ukraine started to unfold, heartbreakingly, history repeating itself. It makes for reading the book in a whole new light.
A gripping, thought-provoking, sobering MUST-read. Highly recommended.
Buy Kristin Harmel’s The Paris Daughter on Amazon (this affiliate link should bring you to the Amazon store in, or closest to, your country).
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