This is a powerful, painful, horrible and yet wonderful book. Does that sound confusing? I have to say I loved and hated the book simultaneously. Being a Brit we never really spent a whole lot of time studying the French people during WWII and the Nazi occupation therein. This book focuses on a family stuck in the middle of the war in France. This family comes with a whole set of different problems to start but don’t most of us have skeletons in our proverbial closets and things we’d rather not have to remember? Ms. Hannah covers the exodus out of the city of Paris after occupation begins with really good details without beating us to death. The horror of having to leave all you know with only what you can drag or carry to some unknown destination, family if you are lucky enough to have any in some country town, or friends who are yet unaware of what is going on. The occupation obviously doesn’t stop in the city and the entire country is taken over slowly but surely by hate and force.
Most of the men have gone to fight with the Allies so a lot of the story is about the women and children left behind. Even those who would never claim to be courageous have to step up and find the power within to survive. The humanity is what endeared me to the characters. They are just normal people, doing normal jobs and waiting for the end of the war when things can get back to what used to be normal. Nazi soldiers are billeted in civilian homes which I can only imagine how scary that would have been. To think that people were starving as their food was taken away to give to members of the Nazi party and their fighting forces. As you can imagine there are stories of people being taken away as they are Jewish or have Jewish sympathies – all told with the backdrop of children being left behind or friends and neighbours beaten if they try to stop the soldiers. Like I said it is a ghastly story but so powerful that we never forget.
There are only a few books that I have read that literally make me weep – The Notebook was one so beautifully written about enduring love (I still haven’t seen the movie version) and then another that comes to mind is the last Harry Potter book but those were tears of joy. The tears here were different as they mix joy with sadness especially at the end.