The French War Bride: A Novel. Robin Wells. Penguin Group (USA). August 2016. 480 pp. ISBN#: 9780425282441.
Amelie O’Connor is 93 years old, not given to thinking much about her past, that is until a bold, angry woman, Kat Thompson struts into Amelie’s assisted living home. It seems that Kat was engaged to Amelie’s husband, Jack and she’s here to find out how that happened because she is dying of cancer and trying to resolve past wrongs and issues. So begins a phenomenal, yet real story of living through WWII in mainly Paris, France.
Amelie and Yvette have been best friends from the time they were children. Now the Germans have taken over France and every day is harrowing, a matter of survival or death. Both women watch their parents die directly from the Germans or disease following the starvation conditions imposed by the enemy. However, out of the bitterness and sorrow of those losses arose the feisty French Spirit expressed through the Resistance. No, it’s not melodramatic stuff of the movies but is day-by-day ferocious passing of information to thwart if not destroy German progress in the war. During that time, Amelie’s brother works for the French police who obey the German directives and seeing some of his action changes Amelie forever. At the same time Yvette dumps Amelie’s brother as a boyfriend, she begins to cooperate with the Germans in order to get fragile and important information. The lack of food and clothing are so tangible that the reader can feel their starvation and see their weight rapidly falling along with other horrors. Neighbors sometimes help each other and sometimes selfishly deny each other since one mouthful of food can often mean surviving alive another day.
In between the two narrative voices presenting their story or point of view, we see the reactions of both women and the gradual revelation of secrets that forces each woman to face her own lies and truth. This calls for forgiveness!
The pace of this novel is evenly presented with ever-present rules changing, bringing new crises and ways of coping that are intriguing and keep the reader flipping rapidly through the pages. The romance is sweet while the cost paid is cruel and yet no less passionate for hard times call for all or nothing investment.
The French War Bride isn’t hopeless at all – it’s invigorating prose that celebrates survival after loss, strength during and after weakness, loyalty despite ever-present traitors, and enduring love that calls forth the best humans can give in the face of the worst others can inflict. Dramatic and highly recommended historical fiction!