Saturday, October 3, 2020

Paris Never Leaves You

Title:  Paris Never Leaves You
Author:  Ellen Feldman
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Griffin. 2020. 368 pages.
ISBN:  1250759897 / 978-1250759894

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "They were ripping off the stars."

Favorite Quote:  "There's no logic to intolerance."

"Collabo horizontale" or horizontal collaborators is the label given to French women who allegedly had relationships with German officers and soldiers during World War II after France fell into occupation in 1940. The women were viewed as traitors and often punished publicly after the liberation of France in 1944. Some estimates state that about 200,000 children were the result of such relationships.

Paris, 1944. New York, 1954. Charlotte and her daughter Vivi survived the war in Paris. They now live in New York. Charlotte ran a bookstore in Paris; she works for a publishing house in New York. Vivi was a baby in Paris. She is now growing up into an adolescent with lots of questions about her past, her father, her faith, and her heritage.

Charlotte lives forever in the shadow of her past. Her family lost. Her husband who died in the war. How she survived in Paris. The new life she has built in New York. The repercussions of and the guilt over her decisions made haunts her. The secrets she still chooses to keep haunt her. "No one but a fool would try to erase the past. The only hope was to guard against it." 

The struggle with the choices made extends to other characters in the book, mainly Horace and Julian. Charlotte's choices are ones of survival but even more so ones she makes because she falls in love - twice. More than survival, her story is one of romance.

The story goes back and forth between the past and the present. Within each time frame, the story shows glimpses of different times. It is not always a chronological sequence but rather one designed to show Charlotte's reckoning with her own past. Often there is no transition between these jumps, making the book challenging to follow at times.

I am not really sure what it was about this book, but unfortunately, I fail to connect with the characters or the story. The circumstances and some of the events that occur are dire but fail to elicit an emotional reaction. In fact, the characters come off as somewhat self-centered and unlikable. Maybe, it is the jumps in timelines. Maybe, it is the romance. Maybe, it is the physical descriptions. Again, I am not sure. I feel like the premise and the story is one that should have resonated, but unfortunately, it just does not for me.

The most interesting but sad lesson this book leaves me with is the presence of antisemitism in the United States in the 1950s. "So this was the way they got to you in America. No roundups, no camps, merely insidious cruelty to your children." That refrain repeats in different ways throughout the book. Unfortunately, it still fails to resonate with Charlotte's story especially given the eventual outcome of the book. It remains, however, an important lesson in history.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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