Phyllis Kimmel Libby

My Jewish grandfather was a seventh-generation goldsmith who worked for Fabergé in Odessa, in the Ukraine. After he and his fiancé were caught in crossfire during the murderous pogrom of 1905, they vowed never to raise their children in such peril. He brought his wife, children, and in-laws to America.

My Bavarian grandfather was Czech, and lived near the German-Czech border. He refused to fight for Germany in WWI after Bismarck suppressed his Czech language and his nation’s freedom of self-rule in 1870. He stowed away on a Norwegian sailing ship  ...See more >

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"...Riveting first person narrative ... Smooth, in-the-moment prose and realistic dialogue enliven a haunting tale tightly packed with historical facts .... Kirkus Reviews"

Kirkus Reviews


Pub Date:
ISBN: 978-0-9987441-0-0
Page count: 514pp

In this debut novel, set in a small town in Vichy France on the Swiss border, World War II arrives at the back door of a wealthy 41-year-old widow, causing her to risk everything in the battle against unspeakable evil.

It is 1941, and the Germans have occupied northern France. But in the southern, “free” region, the Vichy government is still in control, albeit through collaboration with the Nazis. Almost two years ago, a skiing accident took the life of Madame Ingrid Fellner’s husband and left their daughter, Marta, seriously injured. Grief over her husband and devotion to her 8-year-old daughter’s recuperation have allowed Ingrid to distance herself from the chaos enveloping Europe. But as the book opens, she walks by the river that borders her property and makes a discovery that shakes her out of her complacency: “Oh Mon Dieu! There is one, no, there are two yellow stars, two people. A Jewish couple has washed up on my shore!” It is the pivotal moment that will lead Ingrid to join the French Resistance, a decision that will cost her more than she can imagine—her self-respect, her standing in the community, and perhaps her life. She agrees to let the underground use her basement as a way station for Jewish refugees, some of whom have escaped from concentration camps. While Ingrid entertains the regional head of the Gestapo, Erich Heisler, upstairs in her drawing room, becoming his “field mattress” to keep him distracted, the “Old Testaments” are hiding downstairs.

The riveting first-person narrative is written in Ingrid’s voice. It is a voice outwardly enriched by her aristocratic upbringing and inwardly full of self-doubt and anguish. The novel, the first installment of a series, is simultaneously character-driven and rich in historical details about the operation of one aspect of the underground’s activities. Libby paints a vivid portrait of the competing forces that turn friend against friend, ripping off the veneer of civility even as they lead to new, deep bonds of trust and love that cross traditional societal lines. Ingrid is living with two identities: she is Madame Fellner in public but is known as the mysterious Madame “Henri” within the underground, literally traversing from one world to the other each time she descends or ascends the back staircase to her basement: “I spend my days paranoid and obsessed with questions. I torture myself worrying about every detail that could reveal what I do secretly and then give up because it’s too much to carry.” With the increasing deceptions, Ingrid’s closest confidants are her mentor (and local underground leader), Dieter Van der Kreuzier; her butler, Guy; and her housekeeper, Marie. They also are among this impressive book’s most significant secondary characters. A dark back story, which first appears as an intriguing subplot, takes on greater importance as the primary narrative moves forward, weaving together the threads of war and revenge.

Smooth, in-the-moment prose and realistic dialogue enliven a haunting tale tightly packed with historical facts that should alarm readers even today, seven decades later.


Historical Fiction, Women's Fiction, Literary Fiction, Military Fiction, Holocaust Fiction, Jewish, French and German Fiction.

Phyllis Kimmel Libby's next book to come is Hard of Healing, the second volume in her trilogy, Ingrid's Wars. Libby takes us through the next twenty post-war years in a fascinating continuing drama of lives forever altered by the French Occupation. Now Ingrid must deal with the devastating consequences of her wartime high-wire act when the trip-wires of her mind could skew her future. With a wounded, almost embittered heart, Ingrid must surpass her memories as she deals with the psychological repercussions affecting her friends and family. She burrows into the crevices of their damaged souls to help them heal, and in doing so discovers her future will come with this healing of others. Our favorite characters have survived their double lives in the Undergraound in the only way anyone could: they have slapped psychological "band-aids" over deep-seated traumas. Once again, we are on the edges of our seats. The flow is strong, the reading swift. Ingrid overcomes some of the trip-wires and finds others. We applaud her pratfalls and perseverance. She struggles back to her feet, regrets her misgivings, and walks straight ahead into the third book, Hostage to Life, as this epic story series lives on.