I have a great book to recommend this week,THE LOST VINTAGE by Ann Mah
Sweetbitter meets The Nightingale in this page-turning novel about a woman who returns to her family’s ancestral vineyard in Burgundy and unexpectedly uncovers a lost diary, an unknown relative, and a secret her family has been keeping since World War II.
To become one of only a few hundred certified wine experts in the world, Kate must pass the notoriously difficult Master of Wine examination. She’s failed twice before; her third attempt will be her last chance. Suddenly finding herself without a job and with the test a few months away, she travels to Burgundy to spend the fall at the vineyard estate that has belonged to her family for generations. There she can bolster her shaky knowledge of Burgundian vintages and reconnect with her cousin Nico and his wife, Heather, who now oversee day-to-day management of the grapes. The one person Kate hopes to avoid is Jean-Luc, a talented young winemaker and her first love.
At the vineyard house, Kate is eager to help her cousin clean out the enormous basement that is filled with generations of discarded and forgotten belongings. Deep inside the cellar, behind a large armoire, she discovers a hidden room containing a cot, some Resistance pamphlets, and an enormous cache of valuable wine. Piqued by the secret space, Kate begins to dig into her family’s history—a search that takes her back to the dark days of World War II and introduces her to a relative she never knew existed, a great–half aunt who was a teenager during the Nazi occupation.
As she learns more about her family, the line between resistance and collaboration blurs, driving Kate to find the answers to two crucial questions: Who, exactly, did her family aid during the difficult years of the war? And what happened to six valuable bottles of wine that seem to be missing from the cellar’s collection?
I loved this book, and I especially loved that, in the midst of all the various elements it explores, Mah subtly but powerfully highlights how women bore the brunt of the national rage expressed against collaborators directly after the war. Even unfairly, and often at the hands of the men who themselves had been among the worst collaborators.
The story is a dual time line, told alternately between Kate in the present and her great aunt Hélène, whose narrative is written through diary entries. Tension is high in the segments set in WWII France. Hélène and her stepmother have a brittle relationship which only worsens as the war grinds on, especially once her father is arrested and her stepmother becomes increasingly friendly with the enemy.
Tension in the present is ratcheted by the fact that Heather is Jewish, and the idea that her husband’s family could have been collaborators is devastating to her, and to Kate.
Then there’s Jean-Luc, for whom Kate still has feelings, and who may still have feelings for her. Unfortunately there’s also a new girlfriend, Louise, who acts very strangely around Kate and not because of Jean-Luc. Everyone is wondering where the last, and most valuable, set of lost wines disappeared to and Kate and Heather would like to get to the truth of what happened to Hélène. Certainly there’s much more to the story than they can discover, and the elders of the family and the town would prefer no one dive into the past and dredge up the painful—and embarrassing—truths buried there.
So romance, wine, France and women. Work War II. Some frenchmen acting nobly, others acting dishonorably.
It’s a beautiful, heart-wrenching, uplifting book.
You should definitely pick it up!