Moving between Occupied Paris, the City of Light darkened now by blackouts, curfews, and fear, and the publishing world of 1950s Manhattan, giddy with postwar abundance and optimism, Paris Never Leaves You is a story of resilience, love, and impossible choices.
Widowed in the first weeks of the war, working in a bookshop in Paris, Charlotte Foret struggles to survive and care for her infant daughter Vivi. In a world where enemy uniforms patrol the streets, friends and loved ones suddenly disappear, neighbors can betray as easily as comfort, and hunger stalks every waking hour, Charlotte walks a fine line between saving her child and staying true to herself. If the enemy offers aid, is he still the enemy? If kindness wears a uniform, is it not still kindness? Are moral scruples worth a child’s life?
Charlotte’s existence is a daily struggle to find food, medicine, and safety for her and her daughter in a ravaged city. It is also a battle between the clear and acceptable morality of peacetime and the realities and exigencies of war.
Charlotte is not a victim. She is a survivor. When she and her daughter leave Paris for New York, she thinks she has put her anguish behind her. But the choices she made in her old life shadow her new and ultimately threaten her relationship with the child she fought so hard to save. A teenage Vivi begins to ask questions about the past Charlotte is running away from. And when the family friend who has sponsored her immigration and given her a job in his publishing house, a man with his own physical and emotional war wounds, forces her to face what she did and did not do to endure, she must confront twin truths. Survival never comes without a cost. The past is never past.
Paris Never Leaves You is a tale of the moral conundrums we face, the roads we take, and the price we pay for them later in life. That’s one of the reasons I think book clubs will have an especially lively time discussing the book. I suspect there will as many opinions about Charlotte’s actions as there are readers of the book. The choices we make in life are never easy. The responsibility or guilt we feel for those choices is often even more fraught. How far will a mother go to protect her child? What price does a woman pay for survival? And how to recognize love in the time of war, and deal with its aftermath in peace?
Few of us are faced with Charlotte’s life-and-death decisions, but all of us encounter moral challenges in life. Paris Never Leaves You provides no answers to these dilemmas, only questions about moral absolutes, the individual conscience, and one woman’s struggle to survive – and forgive herself.