The Last Hours in Paris by Ruth Druart, novel set in WW2 Paris and 1963 Brittany.
This is a dual timeline novel which opens in 1963. 18 year old Joséphine is living in Brittany with her mother and an ‘aunt’ and discovers that her father – whom she has never met – is not who she thinks he was. He is not Frédéric as she had ben led to believe. She senses that her mother and her family have held some kind of secret from her and now she is desperate to find out the truth, but still she is blocked at every turn. She decamps to visit her mother’s sister in Paris, where she can be in touch with more members of the family.
Back in 1944 Paris is an occupied city, and the people have to conform to norms imposed by the Nazi occupiers, the “Boche”. Joséphine’s mother, Elise, is centre stage in this part of the novel, where her life is detailed. She is certainly not towing the line and is doing what she can to help children escape to safer countries. It is so dangerous, of course, and she is certainly aware of how her actions may affect those around her. In a bookshop she happens to meet Sébastien and the story continues to detail their burgeoning love story.
Joséphine’s mother, as she experiences her, is morose and quite sad, and now Joséphine needs to understand the backstory so she can really know who she herself is. Those around really don’t want to enlighten her.
This is a nicely told story that bowls along effortlessly. There are innumerable novels that tell the story of WW2 occupation and detail the plight of star-crossed lovers, who may or may not make it through war, and then onwards into a ripe old age. There are the inevitable stereotypical mechanical Germans, the good German, the cruelty, deprivation, the Jews who are subject to intolerable conditions, and the hope, which are all integral elements to such a story such as this. This novel can feel a little cliché at times, erring on the lightweight side given the traumatic situation.
There are details of life, the food the Germans get to eat, and the real coffee they get to drink, but the French, of course, do not. The author has done decent research to bring each era to life, although in 1963 it would have been impossible to bowl up to a neighbour’s house in England and ask to use their telephone to call France – all calls in that period had to be booked well in advance (days in advance, even), so it is always important, if an author’s novel is historical, that facts are fully checked. Overall this is a quick and enjoyable read.