Posted in General Fiction, Historical Fiction, Women's Fiction, World War II

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+

Posted in 20th Century, 70's, Best Sellers, Fiction, General Fiction, World War II

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen

Publication Info: February 20th 2018 by Lake Union Publishing, hardcover edition. Other editions available.The Tuscan Child

In December, 1944, Hugo Langley, the soon to be heir of Langley Hall, is shot down over Italy by the Germans. His leg badly injured, he manages to crawl to the edge of an olive tree grove and passes out. He is discovered by a young woman named Sofia, who lives in the village nearby. She helps him hobble to the ruins of a nearby monastery, where he can hide and try to heal. Over the course of the next few weeks, she brings him food and medical aid, stealthily avoiding the Germans and the sharp eyes of the townspeople.

In April 1973, Joanna Langley, receives word that her father, Hugo, has passed away. Hugo returned from the war to find that his inheritance must be sold to pay taxes. In greatly reduced circumstances, he lived with his daughter in a cottage behind the grand manor, which was now being run as a girls school, where he is employed as an art teacher.

Hugo and his daughter had a difficult relationship, as he remained emotionally distant after he returned from the war. Joanna’s first glimpse into her father’s behavior came in the form of a letter that she found in an old trunk. The letter, addressed to Sofia in Italy, was returned, unopened.

After opening the letter and reading the surprising contents, Joanna decides to embark on a journey to Italy to see where her father’s plane crashed in 1944. What she discovers helps her solve problems from her childhood and recent past.

The Tuscan Child is an easy read that I thoroughly enjoyed. It is fiction in an historical setting, rather than historical fiction, and half of the book takes place in Joanna’s time in the 1970’s. There were parts toward the end that I thought were a bit trite and predictable, but overall it was an engaging novel. I have been a fan of Rhys Bowen’s works for a few years now, after discovering her Molly Murphy novels on the recommendation of a friend.

Recommended for readers of general fiction who are looking for a book to simply savor with a glass of Italian red wine.

 

Posted in China, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction, World War II, Young Adult

Wings of a Flying Tiger by Iris Yang

Publication Date: May 2018 by Open Books

Summary: Jasmine Bai, a university student, leaves the relative security of her uncle’s house in Chungking to find her parents in Nanking. It is 1937 and the Japanese are reported near the Republic of China’s capital. Having already ravaged Peking and Shanghai, the Japanese army is headed to Nanking. Jasmine fears for the safety of her parents, both esteemed educators. Her father, Professor Bai, with his fluency in Japanese, is confident that he could help communicate with the invaders and protect the university.Wings of a Flying Tiger

When Jasmine arrives at her parents’ home, it is too late. Her parents are dead, and Nanking is in complete chaos. She takes refuge in a safety zone, a church, directed by Father John, a priest from the United States. But safety zones mean little to the Japanese and she is forced to flee again…and again. The Japanese are constantly looking for soldiers in hiding and “prostitutes”—basically any very pretty, young woman. The first they kill; the second they capture and rape.

Father John arranges for a disguise for Jasmine and gets her out of the city. It is believed to be safer in the countryside. But when an American airman, a Flying Tiger, crashes near the remote village where she is staying, the Japanese are determined to find him—and will destroy anyone they believe to be even remotely involved in his survival.

Comments: Wings of a Flying Tiger is much more than Jasmine’s story. Told with a direct, sympathetic style, it is an agonizing depiction of the Japanese atrocities in China during World War II. Personally, I never knew much about this part of the war. My childhood studies focused on the United States’ war with Japan, but barely mentioned China. I am grateful to the author for educating me about this period of China’s history. The horrors tore at my soul, now more than 80 years distanced. It is good to never forget what human beings can do to each other in war.

The author was born and raised in China and drew from her parents’ and grandmother’s experiences in the war. An interview with the author can be found here.

Highly recommended.  This book is suitable for adults and older young adults.