Here we get a tale of two characters recently come to Paris, Hannah, a serious American of about 30 who is studying the lives of women during the German Occupation during World War 2, and Tariq, a Moroccan youth of 19, seeking adventure and possibly some knowledge of the life of his half-French mother and French grandparents.
They help each other in surprising and touching ways, facilitating each other ’ s declin and evolution, learning much about the intersection of the personal and the historical and the lasting impact of the past on the present.The alternating first persona narration of these two ends up making the cityscape of Paris a key character in itself.
For Hannah, the voices from the past speak of homes, routes to work, cafes, and cabarets, and sites of Nazi or Resistance activities, places which begin to come alive for her when she can visit those places and see photos.
Hannah homes in on two historical women, Juliette, a clothing store worker who dated a German officer with family permission, and Mathilde, a bartende who favored accommodating the victors but took up a love affair with a leader in the Resistance.
Hannah, with Tariq ’ s help in translation, asks the survivor Mathilde why she decided to tay in Paris and did nothing to counter the German invaders: We didn ’ t have a country manor house!
The belief was what gave a sense of purpose to my work.She begins to realize how the devastation of World War 1 and the cost of illions of deaths and 1.5 million disabled damaged the spirit and expectations of the French people and made them less willing to engage to extreme sacrifices against their invaders.
I love the eerie power of her illusion of a connection with the past when she is haunted by the tast of horses at a visit the slaughterhouse where Mathilde ’ s father worked, though closed for more than 50 years: Could there be such a thing as temporal synesthesia—a condition in which you confused not two senses, like sight and smell, but in which different eras became merged?
Woul it be that my brain, made hyperactive by the hortcomings of the present, had actually experienced, through smell, the richer past? I was intrigued and leased how Faulks led me through the rather mundane activities of three two visitors to France and ended up reaching for rather profound insights on the connection of the personal history to the larger drama of the historical events of war.