DREAMS AND SHADOWS by Rosemary Simpson


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Simpson is a talented historical novelist who with her first book (The Seven Hills of Paradise, 1980) brought the Fourth Crusade to full-blooded life. Here, she turns to more recent history with the story of an American woman and her Jewish husband fighting to stay alive in occupied Paris, but fails to evoke the period. The novel begins in the 20's, with the story of Tess and Abby Sullivan, two Irish sisters from a New York slum family who escaped from home by heading to Paris with an all-American chorus show. Dumped by the charismatic entrepreneur, Sammy Rosen, Abby is taken to Long-champs race track one day by rich friends and meets darkly handsome Joseph Keleman, a wealthy gallery-owner. The novel then flashes back to 1912, where it tells Keleman's fascinating story. A Hungarian Jew, he escaped the narrow middle-class existence planned out for him by his doctor father by running away and joining the French Foreign Legion in Algeria; there he helped a rogue Irish priest/legionnaire escape punishment for killing a man and eventually was assigned to Morocco during a time when the locals were running a jihad against the French. He survived that to fall in love with the beautiful Rahel, but her father didn't approve of the match, so Joseph went to the remote and savage Atlas Mountains to find the Irishman, O'Brien, who had become a kind of god to backward tribes there. With O'Brien's help, Keleman stole Rahel away, and together they had a son, but one of O'Brien's jealous wives stole the boy and murdered Rahel, leaving Joseph with nowhere to go but back to Europe, where he worked his way up in the Paris art world. Unfortunately, what was a strong romantic adventure ends halfway through the novel with Joseph and Abby's meeting and marriage. The war soon comes and they conspire with other gallery owners to deny masterpieces to the Gestapo; Joseph and Abby then hang on by the skin of their teeth (with a little help from an enigmatic Gestapo officer who may or may not be Joseph's long-lost son) until the Allies arrive. The Nazi occupation of France and the heroism of those who fought underground is a story that deserves to be told again and again, but not in such a tired, schmaltzy way. In sum: a disappointment, especially after Simpson's admirable first novel.

Pub Date: July 28th, 1986
Publisher: St. Martin's