Kelby makes her novel debut with a religious fable set in WWII that will move some greatly while the more skeptical will find it treacly to the point of considerably other responses.
In the Belgian village of Tournai, near the French border, lives sweet seven-year-old Marie Claire Durrieu, whose Jewish family breeds flowers—in fact her grandmother has just spent seven years perfecting an iris now to be named the Marie Claire. But this is 1940, Marie Claire's parents have already been publicly shot ("Marie Claire understands. Her parents were not careful. Marie Claire misses them very much") by the Germans, and now comes the bombing that eliminates the rest of the family—except for Marie Claire, who alone survives, near-buried (like an iris bulb) in the dirt of a basement. Which is where she's found by two nuns, Mother Xavier and the much younger Anne, who together will take her secretly back to their convent along the river, where they'll hope to help her escape, as they have others. Indeed, though, in Marie they may have come upon more than they bargained for, since at certain stressful moments she suddenly smells overpoweringly of roses—and at another radiates light from her hands bright enough to blind German soldiers to the trio's presence even as the armed men look straight into the room the three are standing in. Young Anne, sadly, is still in love (from an earlier, innocent, romance) with the commander of the Germans, albeit now he's the worst of enemies. Or is he? Certainly there's no question of pure of evil in the case of Mother Xavier's German parents. Is there? In a poetically surreal close ("Who is dead? Who is not?" asks the author), readers can decide for themselves, taking careful note of Who has the last word.
A skillful harvest of symbols most suitable for the pious, others being likely to find the rose-colored glasses an insuperable drawback.