It’s 1939 and Vianne Mauriac lives with her husband and daughter in the small town of Carriveau, France. When her husband is conscripted to serve in the war, Vianne thinks it won’t be long until he returns. However, when France surrenders to the Germans and Carriveau is taken over by Nazis, Vianne’s life changes and nothing will be the same.
Meanwhile, Vianne’s eighteen year old sister Isabelle has been kicked out of another boarding school and returns to Paris to live with their father. But when Paris is occupied by the Germans, Isabelle must flee and witnesses firsthand the horrors of war.
This story took me through a whole range of emotions. The story bounces back and forth between the past and the present and just when you think you know what’s going on in the past, a scene from the present occurs that just unleashes more secrets.
I felt that it mainly was a story about how the women and the people left behind coped and dealt with WWII in different ways. Wives, children, and widows were all left to deal with things on their own. They were the ones who saw their food supply dwindle day after day, who stood in line for hours just to obtain scraps of food. They were forced to go without electricity and comfort because there was no money to pay for anything. They had to house Nazi officers and have their possessions taken on the whims of their houseguests. And that’s if they were lucky to escape deportation to the concentration camps.
The ways that Vianne and Isabelle deal with the war couldn’t be more different from one another. Vianne is struggling to survive and just wants to wait out the war until her husband comes home. She hates the Nazis but has her daughter to think about and provide for, so she always has to be on alert and not raise suspicion.
There were definitely times when I wanted to yell at Isabelle. Isabelle is headstrong, outspoken, and impulsive. Having directly seen the gruesome realities of the war, Isabelle wants nothing more than to fight against the Nazis. However, she would deliberately antagonize the German officers in Carriveau and I could understand Vianne’s frustration at her. The officers had the power to kick you out of your house, fire you from your employment, send you away, or even kill you. Vianne had her daughter to protect so I understand Vianne’s actions and why she didn’t necessarily fight back. However, the path and evolution that Isabelle’s character takes over the course of the book was inspiring and I was glad to see her grow and change.
I greatly enjoyed this story, especially the ending. I know some people call it cliché and melodramatic, but I thought it was a lovely book told from the point of view of two amazing heroines.