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Posted May 1, 2010
In 1931 in Krakow, Poland, an unmarried aristocrat gives birth to a female. To protect her foolish unwed daughter, her mother the Countess lies by telling the new mom that the baby died. The grandmother sends her newborn illegitimate granddaughter to a convent in Montpellier, France run by Abbess Mother Paul and raised by a governess Solange Jouffroi, who names the infant Amandine Gilberte Noiret de Crécy.
Mother Paul detests Amandine while the other sisters are wary of her; only Solange loves her ward. Over the years Amandine wonders why her mom and grandma abandoned her and why the abbess overtly displays her loathing. When scarlet fever ravages the convent, Solange takes Amandine with her to stay with her family as the Nazis blitzkrieg of France turns the two day journey by train into a dangerous odyssey.
This is a wonderful historical tale with a nod to Maslow's Hierarchy; as once the basic biological needs are met, Amandine seeks self actualization by wondering where she belongs. Except for Solange whom she loves as her mom, she fears something is wrong with her for so many to abandon her or loathe her. That sense of identity lost before it is even set make for a strong thriller further anchored in time and place during an era of Nazi atrocities as war engulfs Europe.
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Wonderful story that engages the heart and probes questions of relations, culture, personal histories and self-awareness through the reflections of a child quickly steeped in finding meaning all on her own.
The previous review detailed the plot very nicely. The story tells of the young life of an out-of-wedlock baby placed by a controlling grandmother in the care of a convent. The baby, ostensibly completely abandoned at birth, is nevertheless extremely well provided for in both financial security and loving attention from a caring "governess." Amandine's upbringing involves a second abandonment as Mother Superior first isolates, and then ostracizes the young girl but this blow is balanced by loving attention from both the governess Solange and an elderly chaplain to the nuns. Amandine gradually comprehends life's conflicting currents as she slowly matures first believing she is the cause of her predicament and later slowly coming to realize her own worth. Meanwhile, the controlling grandmother who secretly abandoned her daughter's offspring can never quite erase her guilt. She is extremely self-indulgent in excusing her haughty character but always remains acutely aware of her major failing. Mother Superior, on the other hand, is likewise self-righteous but cannot come to feel guilt. The Bishop who rose through the clerical ranks on his affability, generally achieves a basic decency and feels some regret for his weakness in using other but stands as a symbol of the Church's care of its own rather than adequately shepherding its flock. During her harrowing flight through the Nazi war zone in France, Amandine becomes aware of many war-time sorrows experienced by others but leavened by courageous people who take her in. Throughout this time she continues to mature slowly trying to comprehend not loneliness but aloneness. Saying too much more would impinge on the reader's journey of understanding. The novel moves easily from story line to beautifully phrased dialogue to character development to beautifully written descriptions of seasons and countryside that give a wonderfully pervasive sense of place to the story. In simple language and an economy of words Ms. De Blasi weaves intricate tapestries as she tells her story. Amandine leaves me hoping for a sequel of the girl blossoming into woman.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.