While researching her dissertation in 2017 Los Angeles, Monica Chastain purchases a rare, antique copy of Aesop’s Fables. Inside the spine, she finds a sliver of newsprint with what appears to be a swastika, two names and the date 1942 written in the margin. The two names are Madeline Leblanc and Madeline Eisenberg. With her dissertation finished and accepted, Monica has time on her hands to explore the intriguing note and see where it leads.
From that point on, the narrative switches to September 3rd 1939, the day France declared war on Germany and the same day that the parents of a 17 year-old Jew, Agnès Eisenberg, are involved in a fatal accident. Fortunately for Agnès, she is taken in by good friends of her mother’s, Victor and Charlotte Legrand. They live in Lyon, in the area controlled by the Vichy government, where collaboration means the rounding up of Jews for extermination. The Legrands risk their own lives to protect Agnès when she meets and falls in love with a member of the resistance and has a baby. With the arrival of the sadistic Klaus Barbie, the ‘Butcher of Lyon’ the net begins to close in on both Jews and members of the resistance. Barbie’s dungeon is the place where irises, France’s national flower, never grow.
The three main characters are all too human in their weaknesses and strengths, their loyalty, compassion and fears, their oscillating emotions. The author’s prose is so authentic that the reader is inescapably bound with them in the same rooms as they listen for the dread arrival of the Nazis. It is an excruciating depiction of what so many went through during the Hitler regime. I felt their terror and shared their frantic hope for an avenue of escape to open before the Butcher came for them.
The goodness and decency of the Legrands stands in sharp contrast to the viciousness of Klaus Barbie, just as the selfless courage of the resistance, those who helped them and those who risked their lives by sheltering and helping Jews shines all the brighter when compared with the cowardly collaboration of the Vichy Government.
This is an excellent novel, well-written and steeped in the awful atmosphere of Lyon during those years. Some readers might find the descriptions of torture disturbing. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly recommend this book.
This review was written for Discovering Diamonds
Paulette Mahurin is an international best selling literary fiction and historical fiction novelist. She lives with her husband Terry and two dogs, Max and Bella, in Ventura County, California. She grew up in West Los Angeles and attended UCLA, where she received a Master’s Degree in Science.
Her first novel, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, made it to Amazon bestseller lists and won awards, including best historical fiction 2012 in Turning the Pages Magazine. Her second novel, His Name Was Ben, originally written as an award winning short story while she was in college and later expanded into a novel, rose to bestseller lists its second week out. Her third novel, To Live Out Loud, won international critical acclaim and made it to multiple sites as favorite read book of 2015. Her fourth book, The Seven Year Dress, made it to the bestseller lists for literary fiction and historical fiction on Amazon U.S., Amazon U.K. and Amazon Australia. Her fifth book, The Day I Saw The Hummingbird, was released in 2017 to rave reviews. Her sixth book, A Different Kind of Angel, was released in the summer of 2018 also to rave reviews.
Semi-retired, she continues to work part-time as a Nurse Practitioner in Ventura County. When she’s not writing, she does pro-bono consultation work with women with cancer, works in the Westminster Free Clinic as a volunteer provider, volunteers as a mediator in the Ventura County Courthouse for small claims cases, and involves herself, along with her husband, in dog rescue. Profits from her books go to help rescue dogs from kill shelters.