I received a copy of this book from the publisher.
About The Book
Santa Cruz 1953. Jean-Luc thought he had left it all behind. The scar on his face a small price to pay for surviving the horrors of Nazi occupation. Now, he has a new life in California, a family. He never expected the past to come knocking on his door.
Paris 1944. A young woman’s future is torn away in a heartbeat. Herded on to a train bound for Auschwitz, in an act of desperation she entrusts her most precious possession to a stranger. All she has left now is hope.
On a darkened platform two destinies become entangled. Their choice will change the future in ways neither could have imagined.
I love historical fiction set during WW2 and especially love a book with a dual timeline and multi-person narrative so While Paris Slept ticked a lot of boxes for me. Set in both 1944 and 1953 this sweeping novel explores love and family against a backdrop of war and its long lasting effects. It is a detailed and richly textured novel which transported me to occupied France and to California, where Charlotte and Jean-Luc, our protagonists live with their son, Sam.
The book opens with a knock on the door of Charlotte and Jean-Luc’s house in Santa Cruz. It is 1953 and they have put the horrors of war behind them, immersing themselves in the American dream. Jean-Luc has a good job, they have a lovely house and a new car on the driveway. They spend their weekends with friends and neighbours, having barbecues and dinner parties. They no longer speak their native French, choosing instead to speak English to ease their assimilation into America. Life is good. They’re happy and thriving, a far cry from the lives they led in occupied Paris. That is until the knock at the door brings their past screaming into their present.
Told via two different timelines, Druart takes us back to 1944, to a Paris which has German soldiers on every street, rationing is the norm and there is a palpable fear of being taken away for any slight misdemeanour. Friends and relatives have been disappeared and life is both dangerous and exhausting. Jean-Luc is a railway worker at the Drancy Station in Bobingy, where French Jews were transported to a transit camp on the way to Auschwitz. It is a place where terrible things happen but are not spoken about. He has been ordered to work there by the Germans, and he and his fellow workers know that trains full of poor souls move through the station overnight often finding items of clothing and other personal possessions on the platform in the morning. He feels totally helpless and devastated at the horror that is taking place. knowing that he is reluctantly contributing to it. When he is injured at work he is taken to the hospital where Charlotte works, and it is here that they meet and fall in love.
One night, Jean-Luc finds himself at the station whilst a train full of Jews is there. A woman, fearing for her life and for that of her baby puts her child into the arms of Jean-Luc knowing that this heart-wrenching act is the best possible thing she can do. It is a desperate act from a desperate woman and one which will have a long lasting impact upon all involved. Suddenly, Jean-Luc can do something to help, and he and Charlotte undertake brave and heroic acts to protect this innocent child.
This is a book about the horrors of war, but it is also a book about nature versus nurture, motherhood and family. It is a very emotional read and one which throws up a number of moral conundrums. Jean-Luc and Charlotte’s decisions are made from a place of love but Druart asks whether their decisions were right. It isn’t an easy question to answer, and it is one which the reader has to answer for themselves. Using a very clever narrative structure comprising of dual timelines, multi-person narrative and both first and third person narrative the reader, through finding themselves immersed in each character, can answer the question for themselves. I love great writing like this, writing which allows me to put myself in the action and ask what would I have done in Jean-Luc and Charlotte’s position? Did they do the right thing? Is there a victor in this tale? Who wins and who loses? Is there justice?
I was expecting to be moved by the novel, as books set during this time frame are often difficult to read in places but I wasn’t expecting to be quite so emotionally devastated. I have to admit to shedding a few tears, finding it a beautiful read about a difficult moral conundrum. If historical fiction is your thing then this could be the book for you – just make sure you have some tissues on hand.
About The Author
Ruth Druart grew up on the Isle of Wight, moving away at the age of eighteen to study psychology at
Leicester University. She has lived in Paris since 1993, where she has followed a career in teaching.
She has recently taken a sabbatical, so that she can follow her dream of writing full-time.
About The Book
My thanks to Headline for providing me with a copy of the book via Netgalley and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for an invitation to join the Blog Tour.