An English seamstress is lured to Europe by a con man and enslaved by Nazis, only to end up on death row in her own country.
A prologue reveals that Ada Vaughan is preparing to meet the hangman in a London prison. The remainder of the novel is a flashback. In the late 1930s, young Ada, a product of the London working class, apprentices to a couturier as a mannequin and dressmaker and dreams of opening her own atelier, à la Chanel. Count Stanislaus von Lieben, a dashing admirer with a foreign accent and equally foreign name, at first encourages Ada’s ambitions with compliments, lavish nights out, and, ultimately, a trip to Paris. Once they're in Paris, Stanislaus turns colder, then, as the Germans are on the march, he takes her to Belgium, where he abandons her. Narrowly escaping German bombardment, Ada is taken in by nuns who disguise her as one of their own. Removed by cattle car to Bavaria, the sisters are impressed into service by the Nazis, caring for Aryan elderly. There, Ada, whose pregnancy (by Stanislaus) has been disguised by a too-large habit, gives birth to a son, Thomas, who is taken away by the parish priest to be adopted. Ada is put to work in the household of Herr Weiss, commandant of Dachau. Confined to one room, she is starved, beaten, and forced to do heavy labor and sew. Her one comfort is creating clothes for a growing circle of Frau Weiss’ friends, who repay her only with grudging respect. After the Americans liberate Dachau, Ada is returned to London, where, rejected by her mother, she strives to rebuild her life. From here it may defy credulity that Ada has failed to learn the lessons her harsh personal history has taught, but Chamberlain demonstrates, chillingly, how the deck was stacked against her protagonist from the very beginning.
A bleak look at one woman’s war.