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.
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.