The question of what it means to be Jewish drives Feldman’s nuanced WWII story of love and survival (after Terrible Virtue). Nine years after the war, Charlotte Foret, a widow from France, lives in New York City with her teenage daughter, Vivi, working as an editor at a publishing house. Vivi learns to navigate the social whirl of her school as one of only a handful of Jewish students, while Charlotte tries to deny a growing attraction to her married boss. When Charlotte receives, and tries to ignore, a letter postmarked Bogotá, Colombia, a sanctuary for many former Nazis, she realizes she cannot escape the memories of occupied Paris. In flashbacks, Feldman vividly recreates those years as Charlotte runs a Paris bookstore where she meets and befriends German Wehrmacht officer Julian Bauer. She rationalizes that Julian (the subject of the letters she receives from Bogotá) is different from other Nazis; though he assumes she’s Jewish and getting by on false identity papers, he’s unconcerned. The night Julian saves Charlotte and Vivi from a roundup, he and Charlotte become lovers and he confides a dangerous secret that gives Feldman’s story a gasp-worthy spin, elevating an otherwise conventional wartime love story. With its appealing heroine and historically detailed settings, romance fans will find this satisfying. Agent: Emma Sweeney, Emma Sweeney Agency. (Aug.)
Nothing is quite what it seems in this historical novel set in occupied Paris during World War II and the New York publishing world of the 1950s.
Charlotte Foret, a young widow with an 18-month-old daughter, runs a bookstore in Nazi-controlled Paris. Her husband has been killed in the war; her father, a left-wing publisher, is on the run. Food is scarce while the fear of arrest and deportation to a concentration camp is constant. A polite German officer becomes a regular at the store, browsing and occasionally buying a volume. Charlotte is disturbed by his presence and tries to ignore him. But when he turns up one day with an orange for her hungry child, things begin to change. Intercut throughout are scenes from Charlotte’s life in Manhattan a decade later. With the help of Horace Field—a prominent publisher who knew her father—and Horace’s wife, Hannah, Charlotte and daughter Vivi have made a fresh start. Charlotte works as an editor for Horace while Vivi, now 14, is a lively, inquisitive scholarship student. Horace is confined to a wheelchair from wounds suffered in the war; nonetheless, he begins to display a more than mentorlike interest in Charlotte. Complications ensue. It’s hard to get your bearings in the novel’s awkward beginning pages. But author Feldman soon regains control, and the narrative proceeds at a brisk pace. There are multiple revelations: All the major players have something to hide. Though some of their secrets are a bit improbable—leaving the reader feeling intentionally misled—it doesn’t much matter. The story is involving, and the big-ticket themes—having to do with loyalty, betrayal, and what it takes to survive—are mostly handled in a graceful, nuanced way (though Charlotte’s guilt does feel overblown). Wartime Paris is described in vivid, sometimes harrowing, detail.
An uneven but engrossing page-turner.
ONE OF CNN'S BEST NEW BOOKS THIS AUGUST
"A memorable, thought-provoking moral conflict, and dialogue [that] crackles like a duel... Paris Never Leaves You succeeds as a meaty moral tale." Historical Novel Society
"Fans of Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See and Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale may want to pick this up." Booklist
"Nothing is quite what it seems... Wartime Paris is described in vivid, sometimes harrowing, detail... [An] engrossing page-turner." Kirkus
"[This] story of love, resilience, determination and courage showcases just how far a mother and daughter will go to survive." CNN
"The best works of historical fiction have a way of illuminating the present, allowing readers to better understand themselves through well-defined characters reflected in the prism of time.... Feldman does this beautifully in a multi-layered, tender story that explores the emotionally charged, often parallel terrains of truth, deception, love and heartbreak." Shelf Awareness
"A nuanced WWII story of love and survival in Occupied Paris… With its appealing heroine and historically detailed settings… a dangerous secret gives Feldman’s story a gasp-worthy spin." Publishers Weekly
"Things are seldom as they seem in this engrossing tale of identity, survival, loyalty, and love...Recommend with enthusiasm." Library Journal
"Ellen Feldman's writing is riveting in this beautiful novel that tells the bittersweet story of a young mother's strength and survival during WWII. From a tiny bookstore in Nazi-occupied Paris to a post-war New York publishing house, Feldman effortlessly captures the terror, immediacy, and inextinguishable human spirit." Noelle Salazar, author of The Flight Girls
"Completely compelling. I tore through it. This novel pivots on how we manage to survive surviving... Charlotte's visceral story will stay with me.” Naomi Wood, New York Times best-selling author of Mrs. Hemingway and The Hiding Game
"Feldman's powerful exploration of some of the most profound questions about love and loyalty resonates strongly today: What would you do to save your child? What is morality in wartime? How do we make peace with the past?" Christina Lynch, author of The Italian Party
"This is an exquisite novel – one that gives us what we’re hungry for: an intelligent, complex female character who challenges our ideas of right and wrong, morality and immorality. We’re reminded, too, of the dangers of drawing easy, swift conclusions. Feldman achieves all of this with wholly admirable precision and wit; she takes aim and does not miss." Elizabeth J. Church, author of The Atomic Weight of Love and All the Beautiful Girls
"A fluid, rich, and nuanced novel, expertly crafted, guaranteed to follow you around long after you’ve turned the last page. I gulped it down.” Stacy Schiff, author of Cleopatra, Vera, The Witches, and A Great Improvisation
"Feldman’s charactersin the Paris bookstore that harbors many secrets or the Manhattan publishing house with its marvelous cast of misfitsare both terrifying and utterly engaging. With more twists and turns than the back streets of Paris, the story is as propulsively readable as a spy novel, and as rich and psychologically rewarding as only the finest literature can be." Liza Gyllenhaal, author of Local Knowledge and Bleeding Heart
"...a vivid and precise portrait of that city under German occupation during the Second World War, but it is also an exploration of the courage and cowardice of those bitter years, as well as offering a slyly persuasive love story. The swift, engrossing narrative conceals, in the best way, the fact that Feldman is also giving us a wise and troubling lesson about the great moral crisis of the last century." Richard Snow, author of Iron Dawn
"A thrilling achievement...I was thoroughly drawn into a deep, rich, vivid world of engrossing characters and emotional and moral crises...a great piece of writing in every way.” Fred Allen, Leadership Editor, Forbes
Paris, under German occupation near the end of World War II, and Jews are still being rounded up for shipment to the death camps. Charlotte Foret, whose husband has perished in the war, manages a bookstore visited with increasing frequency by Julian Bauer, an officer in the German Wehrmacht. Over time, the officer brings food and other hard-to-get provisions for Charlotte and her young daughter, Vivi. Despite Charlotte's efforts to resist him, an intimate bond develops between her and the officer. As this gripping tale is unfolding amid vivid depictions of Paris in wartime, Feldman (The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank) flashes forward to Charlotte and Vivi in New York City, where a distant acquaintance and his wife help her and Vivi relocate after the war and begin a new life marked by conflicts arising from long-held secrets. VERDICT Things are seldom as they seem in this engrossing tale of identity, survival, loyalty, and love. With frequent time shifts and dubious identities, the author adds considerable depth to her well-crafted tale. Recommended with enthusiasm to anyone with an interest in Paris at war and the much broader themes noted above.—Edward B. Cone, New York