Nearing the end of her days, 96-year-old Doris Alm turns the pages of her red address book, a gift from her father decades ago, lingering over names crossed through with the word “dead” etched in the margin.
Impoverished at age 13 by her father’s untimely death, Doris is sent by her mother to work as a maid for the glamorous Madame Serafin. Stunned to be thrust into the world so soon, Doris bravely embarks on the first of what will be many adventures in her life. As the third maid, Doris takes on the most unpleasant tasks, but she also meets the artist Gösta Nilsson, a man forced to hide his homosexuality even in bohemian Europe. Gösta and Doris become lifelong friends even as Doris travels with Madame to Paris, where she is sold off to Jean Ponsard and begins work as a living mannequin, modeling clothes in department stores and for magazine shoots. She meets the love of her life, Allan Smith, in the park one afternoon. A whirlwind romance ensues until suddenly Allan disappears, moving to the U.S. to care for his mother. Brokenhearted, Doris plunges into her work, which enables her to care for her younger sister, Agnes, after their mother dies, at least until war breaks out. Just as all hope seems lost, a battered, yellowed letter from Allan arrives with funds to take Doris and Agnes to America, where fresh calamities will keep them apart. In this, her debut novel, Swedish writer Lundberg has created a cast of warm characters, all conjured anew in the eyes of Doris’ great-niece, Jenny, who’s arrived to sit with Doris in her final days. Reading through Doris’ book and hearing her stories, Jenny concocts a plan to reunite the star-crossed lovers.
A charming, fragile romance.