Where Irises never grow by Paulette Mahurin

This is a dual time line story set in the late twenty first century and during WWII. While researching her dissertation, 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.

*****

All that Shines and Whispers by Jennifer Craven

This book could be the sequel to a beloved movie. It is 1940 and the Weiss family escapes Austria after their country is annexed by the Nazis. We meet them when they are settled in Switzerland: parents Gerald and Marlene and seven children. On the face of it, they are a happy family except for the eldest daughter Lara, who has left behind a boy she loves. He is associated with the Nazi party. She possesses a secret that if discovered could ruin the family’s future.

The foreshadowing is terrific and the plot is laid out like a rope, drawing us in a little at a time, never slacking.

Marlene Weiss is tender-hearted, understand, patient and always upbeat, and she needs these qualities. Having married a widower, she is an instant-mother of seven children. Husband Gerald is less patient, but when danger threatens his family he shows himself to be strong and resourceful.

This book is not so much a historical novel as a family drama. If it has a fault at all it is that the Weisses are a little too perfect.

An easy and enjoyable read.

****

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