THERE WILL BE NO SLEEP WHEREVER YOU ARE, LET ALONE PARIS, WITH DRUART’S DEBUT

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I’ve been enjoying a run of war-based novels in the last few weeks. First there was The Dressmaker of Paris, by Georgia Kauffmann, which was reviewed last month. Then for my book group I read All the Light We Cannot See, By Anthony Doerr and finally, our first ‘The library Door’ review for March is, While Paris Slept, by Ruth Druart published by Headline (www.headline.co.uk) on the 4th March.

The Second World War, an era now beginning to fade from living memory, is one which fascinates us. In recent reviews I have pondered whether I would, as I like to believe, be brave enough to do the right thing or would I be one of the ‘sheeple’ as current popular slang describes them, who keep their head down and follow the crowd? When visiting Berlin pre lockdown, I was visiting one of the many museums. I was interested by a photograph of a huge crowd at a Nazi rally. One man was circled. He was the only individual in that huge mass of people who was refusing to do the salute to Hitler. The notes on the picture commented on his bravery ad possible foolhardiness. Over the passing years we’ve heard of individuals who at great personal risk, hid, smuggled or otherwise protected Jews from the concentration camps. Some stories only came to light many years later and those saved sometimes never got the chance to thank their rescuer. The war left so many displaced, orphaned or lost children, one wonders how many never knew the exact truth of their beginnings.

In While Paris Slept, we follow the wartime and post time experiences of two couples. Jean Luc is a French railway worker, being forced to work for the occupying Germans. Charlotte is a young woman, working as a nurse in a German hospital in Paris. They meet when Jean Luc is taken to hospital after a mishandled attempt at sabotage. They feel like they should be doing more to resist the Germans and discuss joining the French Resistance. Sarah and David are a Jewish couple who are caught hiding from the Germans with their new-born child. Sarah is being loaded onto a train at the station where Jean Luc is working. During a moment of chaos she hands over her son to this stranger. The story then follows both couples survival of the war. The narrative moves from America in the fifties back to 1944 as events reveal themselves. Their destinies are entangled. Their choices will affect the future in ways they can’t imagine.

At first this novel begins like its going to be a romance. Maybe a little bit of adventure and wartime drama thrown in. Then it moves onto the still, sadly, familiar territory of evasion and survival and sacrifice during the war in relation to the persecution of the Jewish people. However, here we have a twist. The ground is being laid for a Kramer versus Kramer type battle over a child. Its beautifully done. We have learned to like and admire all four adult characters. It would be so easy if any of them were less likeable, less worthy, less deserving. Its interesting to see how the issues faced are handled by 1950’s ‘experts’ and to imagine how it would hopefully be managed more sensitively now.

Ruth Druart

The story is told from the point of view of each character and moves forward and back in time. Each chapter helpfully has the name of the character we are hearing from at the start. I liked having a copy of the printed book. On kindle or on audio, I might have found it a little confusing. However, each character is beautifully written, the different ‘voices’ easily apparent. The child is written so as you can hear the words being thought or spoken in that childish way. The quietness and sadness of Sarah shines through as does the impetuousness and lively character of Charlotte.

This is English born, French author Ruth Druart’s (@ruthdruart) first novel. Ruth grew up on the Isle of Wight and left when she was eighteen to study philosophy at Leicester. In 1993 she moved to Paris to pursue her career in teaching, where she met her French husband and raised three sons, she still lives there today. While working she wrote numerous drafts of While Paris Slept, on her daily commute. She decided to take a sabbatical over a year ago to follow her dream of becoming a full time writer, while also running her writing group.

This is a thought provoking read. It took me a little while to get hooked but I stayed up beyond my bedtime the last two nights, as I just had to know what happened in the end. Not many books without a strong balance of good versus bad characters can make you that invested. This may be a crowded market, but this book should rise above. It’s a great tale of the motherhood. In protecting our children should we always hold tightly onto them or should we be willing to let them go?

This is highly recommended as a Mothering Sunday present for the wonderful woman in your life. So order a copy online or download it soon.

Reviewed by: Georgina Murphy

This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy and read it, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.

THE BUDDHA IN THE ATTIC IS TARDIS-ESQUE, BUT INSIDE IS A BIG STORY FROM OTSUKA

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buddha CvrThe opening lines of the song “America” by Neil Diamond  go, “we’ve been travelling far without a home, but not without a star… Free we huddle close, hang onto a dream…. Never looking back again, they’re coming to America..”.  America is a big boiling pot of many different nationalities, the Irish, Mexicans and Italians to list of some of the larger groups. Among the other assorted nationalities are the Japanese. The difference between the Japanese and the other immigrant groups is that their homelands never attacked America, a few Irish Fenian’s tried to invade the British ruled Canada from America in 1866, but that was a rather fool hardy attempt which was put down quickly. As for the Italians they may have fought against America during World War II, but they were never seen as a perceived threat. Whereas the Japanese who emigrated to America made lives and integrated, only for it to be taken away from them when Pearl Harbor was attacked and that’s where last months book group read takes us. The book is “The Budda In The Attic “ by Julie Otsuka.

The book tells the story of a group of non-English speaking Japanese women who arrive in America between the two world wars, primarily as Picture Brides an early form of Sex trafficking.

These women never knew their husbands; they just embarked on the arduous trip clutching a grainy black and white photo of their betrothed (hence the term) and the promises of love,

Picture Brides Arriving California 1910

Picture Brides Arriving California 1910

happiness and riches. Of course what met them when they arrived was just as promised for some and a violent, abused, put upon hell as well as back breaking slavery for others.  From there they had to start from scratch, initially learning the language and the customs. After a while they started businesses, raised families and lead new lives, but with world war two comes internment and then what…?

Good things come in small packages, and this can be especially said of this book, the whole book is small at only one hundred and twenty nine pages long, it’s a novella. I’ve read longer IKEA manuals, but none of those have been  as great as this little bundle of joy.

The characters are also small, owing to the fact that you never actually get to follow one character, all in all the book is a reportage of what happened to this group, but it is told beautifully and wittily. The only thing big about this book is the packet steamer they sailed on and the vast new world they found themselves in on arrival, not forgetting the big warm contented feeling this book leaves you with after the last page.

The staccato style of writing is very poetic and reads very easily, if at some points it feels repetitive, this is all part Otsuka’s excellent way of telling the story of many in a condensed but very informative way, mixing heart wrenching tales with just the right amount of humour to take the edge off it. Which allows the reader to get a very detailed picture of what different immigrants experienced during their voyage across the pacific, then on arrival and subsequently during their lives. Amidst the book group discussion it came to me that the style of writing reminded me of the Johnny cash song “The One On The Right Is On The Left” its the tale of a successful folk group which is destroyed by political instability. The chorus goes ”Well the one on the right was on the left and the one in the middle was on the right and the guy on the right was in the middle and the guy in the rear. Burned his driving licence…” The thing is in each chorus the guy in the rear does something different. Which is just how Otsuka’s story telling comes across.

Julie Otsuka

The Buddha in the Attic is Japanese American author Julie Otsuka’s (www.julieotsuka.com) second book published in 2011; nine years after her first book “When The Emperor Was Devine”. Where as Buddha in the Attic deals with the Picture brides arrival and subsequent lives up to internment, her first book deals with the actual internment. Both books have won numerous awards including the Asian and American Literary Award and the Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction. As well as that both books are prescribed reading for “Freshmen” in numerous colleges across America.

So if you’re looking for an excellently written book that traces the path of the Japanese in America from there early beginnings as mere sex slaves to hard working members of community and their eventually internment and the mistrust it cast over them, this is right up your street. I just don’t know what Alex Haley would have done if some had suggested that he condense “Roots” into one hundred and twenty nine pages.