A young girl tells of life in a small French town toward the end of World War II in this historical novel.
Debut novelist Obolensky lets Tina, who’s 9 going on 10, tell this story set in the spring of 1944. Because of health problems, Tina has been sent from Paris to the town of Dormans in France to live with the Marchands—mother Nanette, father Bébert, their son, Guigui, and grandmother Mémé. Dormans is under occupation by the Nazis, so fear, tension, and resentment abound. But already, rumor has it that the tide has turned in the war and it will be only a matter of time before the Americans come to liberate the town. Meanwhile, life goes on, and readers get to know and love the Marchands and several other characters in the area—some suspect, some quirky, and some generous; the Germans (known as “the Boches”) are, of course, deeply despised. This is a story of Tina learning fearful truths and navigating the darker recesses of life while also being cherished by the Marchands. (Her tale is bookended by that of a mature Tina’s return, years later, for the funeral of one of her relatives.) The author makes sure that tragedy stalks the story, as when one key character is shot dead by a German squad on patrol. Tina also witnesses the love between a German soldier, Oberleutnant Redlich, and Odile Rouleau, her schoolteacher, and no good comes of that situation, either. Overall, Obolensky writes very well—lyrically, in fact, and with acute understanding. For example, Tina explains her happiness in the Marchands’ house this way: “I was a chameleon and joy was the color of the moment.” The author’s description of the hysterical hilarity of the town’s eventual liberation is also spot-on, and characters’ deaths can be heart-wrenching. There are some distracting typos, including missing commas, but the beauty of the prose overwhelms these flaws.
A standout, vividly written story of wartime.