Paris Never Leaves You by Ellen Feldman

Publication Info: Expected publication date: August 4, 2020 by St. Martin’s Press. I read the Kindle pre-pub edition courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley. Other editions available at publication.

Summary: After nearly four years of Nazi occupation, the people of Paris are emotionally drained and starving. The German soldiers in the city, sensing the end of their rule, are increasingly cruel to the French. Citizens are harassed, rounded up, shot or sent to the camps. The tension is so great that Parisians are turning on each other, making accusations and killing their fellow citizens for reasons based on nothing but rumor. The primary allegation against the victims of the mobs is collaboration.

In 1944, Charlotte Foret and her baby daughter, Vivi, are struggling to survive. They work in a bookshop owned by her friend, Simone. Charlotte’s husband was killed in the war. Charlotte, Vivi, Simone and her young daughter live on the money from the meager book sales and their special ration cards, but food is still in extremely short supply. They they are slowly starving to death.

A German soldier begins to quietly frequent the bookshop. He says he is a doctor and helps Vivi through an illness. After Simone is taken by the Germans, Charlotte reluctantly accepts the doctor’s small gifts of food and his friendship. It is the only way they can survive. In the definition of the mobs, she is a collaborator.

Many years later, teenage Vivi is searching for her identity. Charlotte, who has buried her past, comes face to face with her guilt for what she did to survive the war in Paris.

Comments: For me, the central theme of Paris Never Leaves You is guilt, both survivor’s guilt and Catholic guilt. I’ve been fortunate enough to never experience the former, but I sure know a lot about the latter. My mother was fiercely Catholic and sent me to Catholic School in the 60’s and 70’s for thirteen years (including Kindergarten).

I fully related to Charlotte’s inability to forgive herself and move on with her life. After the war, she became an emotional wraith, just passing through life without really living it. While physical present and functional, she lived in the past, unable to form attachments beyond her unduly protective relationship with her daughter, Vivi.

I’ve read several other women in WWII novels, but none quite like this one. Where most of them feature a heroine character drawn from real life, Paris Never Leaves You is about ordinary people just trying to survive in an extraordinary time.

Highly recommended for readers of Historical Fiction, General Fiction, Women’s Fiction and stories about World War II.

My Rating: 4.5 STARS, B+

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