More than 50 years after the events recounted, a reporter reminisces about her life in Europe prior to the outbreak of World War II.
Although, or perhaps because, she was born and raised in Nevada, Rosie Manon craved another kind of life—more adventurous and meaningful than the one she’d known as a child. Her father was Catholic and her mother Jewish, although the latter lived in denial of her religious background and tried to keep Rosie from this part of her identity. In 1933, after a stint as a reporter with the New York Courier, Rosie seeks a transfer to its Paris office and finds herself the only woman on the staff and particularly ill-treated by her editor, Ramsey, an intolerant bigot who nevertheless recognizes Rosie’s talent. She styles herself R. B. Manon and becomes a tough-skinned reporter, eventually moving to Berlin, obviously a perilous place for her. There, she falls in love with Leon Wolff, a gifted engraver (and forger of documents) who, against his will, uses his talents on behalf of the Reich. Rosie and Leon carry on a surreptitious affair, but life eventually gets too dangerous, and Rosie reluctantly moves back to Paris. One sidelight of her life involves the murder of her cousin, Stella, the daughter of Rosie’s beloved Aunt Clara, and Rosie’s reporting on the outcome of the trial. Rosie lives through the horrors of Kristallnacht and, two years later, through the fall of Paris, losing track of Leon and only toward the end of the novel, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, finding out about his time in Sachsenhausen concentration camp and his postwar life with another woman.
Despite some occasionally wooden dialogue, Zackheim gives us a poignant glimpse into the tensions and anxieties of prewar Europe.