The war is over, but the past is never past…
Paris, 1944. Charlotte Foret is working in a tiny bookstore in Nazi-occupied Paris struggling to stay alive and keep her baby Vivi safe. Every day they live through is a miracle until Vivi becomes gravely ill. In desperation, Charlotte accepts help from an unlikely saviour – and her life is changed forever.
Charlotte is no victim. She is a survivor. But the truth of what happened in Paris is something she knows she can never share with anyone, including her daughter. Can she ever really leave Paris behind, and embrace the next chapter of her life?
Seamlessly interweaving Charlotte’s past in wartime Paris and her present in the 1950s world of New York publishing, Paris Never Leaves You is a heartbreakingly moving and unforgettable story of resilience, love – and impossible choices.
First off, I’d like to say that I’m a big reader of historical fiction, particularly this subset of historical fiction. I’ve read three WW2 based historicals in the last fortnight alone, so you could say I have a fairly strong grasp of the genre; in fact, I might have been tiring of it. That was until I read the opening lines of Paris Never Leaves You, which snapped me awake and reminded me why I enjoyed this genre so much in the first place.
Despite what the front cover and title may suggest, Paris Never Leaves You is no mere romance – yes, there are plenty of romantic trysts within the story, but this novel is so much more than that – it’s a compelling and poignant tale that explores a number of complex themes, such as survivors guilt, motherhood and the search for identity.
One of the things I enjoyed most about the novel was Feldman’s creation of well-rounded characters. Charlotte, despite all her admirable qualities – her resilience, intelligence, and ability to roll a wicked French r when the situation calls for it – is still a deeply flawed character. The Germans, too, aren’t simply depicted as mindless villains. In fact, there are times when the French characters within the novel prove to be just as bad as the Germans – the treatment of the collabo horizontale (French women accused of sleeping with German soldiers) comes to mind here.
Rich, thought-provoking and utterly engrossing, Paris Never Leaves You is definitely a page-turner, and a welcome addition to the genre. I’ll be watching very closely to see what Ellen Feldman delivers next.