From the rise of industrialism through the bitter dregs of World War II, a ruthless patriarch strives to restore his family to social and economic eminence.
In the wee hours, a cloaked man delivers a mysterious child to the mother superior of a Parisian orphanage, saving one life but perhaps jeopardizing another. This rather gothic opening—riddled with dark alcoves along narrow avenues under an icy moon—foreshadows not only the web of lies that will constrain this orphan’s life, but also the web of family ties that Anselme Rochefort weaves to bind and ultimately estrange his children. (And that orphan will return to trouble the Rochefort empire.) The son of the powerfully connected and financially savvy Charles-Honoré Rochefort, Anselme nearly bankrupts the family textile business after his father’s death. Determined to prove his worth—but equally determined to indulge in his vices—Anselme sets out, coldbloodedly, to rebuild the family’s reputation and fortune. A marriage of convenience to the beautiful, wealthy, orphaned, and pregnant Eleanor Letellier infuses Anselme with much-needed capital and offers Eleanor social sanctuary. A broken heart, however, drives Eleanor to take her own life soon after the birth of her daughter, Catherine. Ever practical, Anselme quickly remarries, encouraging his second wealthy bride, Elisabeth Langlade, to raise Catherine as her own. Fifteen years and four children later, Elisabeth dotes on Catherine, Anselme ignores her, and, desperate for love, Catherine falls into the arms of a penniless man Anselme could never consider as a son-in-law. This is a world in which the highborn have the power to determine which families’ reputations are sterling enough to participate in economies both social and financial. Arranging the warp and weft of his children’s lives proves difficult for Anselme, however, particularly as his younger son, Sebastian, is drawn into the free love of political radicals and his favorite daughter, 9-year-old Faustine, falls in love with a farmer’s adopted son. The old world of convention collides with a new world of experimentation with calamitous consequences.
Marred only by stiff dialogue, Laborie’s debut impresses with a sweeping saga full of historical detail and familial melodrama.