The first novel to be published in English by French actress and novelist Wiazemsky is a brief, barely fictionalized memoir about her mother Claire, the daughter of Nobel Prize–winning author François Mauriac.
In her mid-20s during World War II, Claire first begins to assert her independence from her tight, traditional Catholic family when she becomes an ambulance driver for the French Red Cross. Despite chronic stomach problems and migraines, she takes serious risks working secretly for the French Resistance. Although officially engaged to Patrice, who is imprisoned in Germany, she flirts with serious romance, first in southern France and then in Alsace as the war winds down. Finally back in Paris, where her family remained during the occupation, she reunites with Patrice, who has gained his freedom, but by the Armistice she realizes she does not love him—although she adores his family. With the engagement broken off, and Germany defeated, she returns to Red Cross duty in Berlin, where she finds the social/political/human drama of postwar devastation compelling. There she meets and falls in love with Ivan Wiazemsky, a Russian-speaking French officer whose aristocratic family fled Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution. The obstacles to their marriage may not seem great to Americans: She is Roman Catholic and he is Russian Orthodox; her family is ensconced in the Parisian literary elite class while he is a “cosmopolitan” (a word that no longer carries a clear meaning); her parents have wealth or at least financial security while his are impoverished immigrants despite their fancy titles. Nevertheless Ivan and Claire become engaged. Soon after, Ivan must fight unfounded charges of trafficking with Germans and belonging to a fascist-leaning organization in the 1930s. His name cleared, the lovers marry, Claire becomes pregnant and the author is born.
The picture of life in France and Germany at the end of WWII is fascinating and vivid, but despite excerpts from letters and diaries, the characters of Wiazemsky’s parents remain slightly elusive.