The experiences, perspectives, and secrets of a French family during the Nazi occupation and after World War II.
DeWitt (Dogs, 2010, etc.) spins a complex web of memories as she tells the story of the Delasalle family. Early in the book we meet Geneviève, who has gone to Paris to audition for the National Conservatory. Her younger sisters, Françoise and Yvonne; her grandmother; her mother; and her stepfather, Henri, live in occupied Caen, Normandy; her brother, Simon, and her aunt Chouchotte also live in Paris. On D-Day, Caen is bombed, and some family members are killed. The book centers on how the characters who are left recall those times. The postwar sections focus on Geneviève as a grown woman, married to an American and returning to France every summer with her children, and about what became of the others. These sections move between the past and present as the characters remember. The chapters in which Françoise and Chouchotte revisit memories are compelling and successfully portray the indelible impact of the war on people who lived through it. A few friends of the family have their own chapters, and those, while interesting, seem somewhat tangential. Polly, Geneviève’s youngest daughter, lives the war through her mother’s stories and her other relatives’ silences, and her chapters reveal the war’s impact on the next generation. DeWitt successfully conveys the way memories vary from one person to the next, so that for example, Simon, Geneviève, and Chouchotte have different recollections of the moment they met on a Paris street and Simon’s wife blurted out the news of the deaths in Caen. The Jewish characters here are mostly admired by the French gentiles, and one Jewish man, a pediatrician in the Delasalle’s hometown, has young mothers fawning over him. Perhaps because widespread anti-Semitism features in much of the fiction set in World War II–era France (such as Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française), its absence, especially among the Delasalle family, is notable.
A war story that focuses on the psychological aftermath rather than the wartime experience itself.