Monday, 5 January 2015
Author: Charles Belfoure
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
First Published: October 2013
First Lines: "Just as Lucien Bernard rounded the corner at the rue la Boetie, a man running in the opposite direction almost collided with him."
Book Description from GoodReads: Like most gentiles in Nazi-occupied Paris, architect Lucien Bernard has little empathy for the Jews. So when a wealthy industrialist offers him a large sum of money to devise secret hiding places for Jews, Lucien struggles with the choice of risking his life for a cause he doesn’t really believe in. Ultimately he can’t resist the challenge and begins designing expertly concealed hiding spaces—behind a painting, within a column, or inside a drainpipe—detecting possibilities invisible to the average eye. But when one of his clever hiding spaces fails horribly and the immense suffering of Jews becomes incredibly personal, he can no longer deny reality.
Written by an expert whose knowledge imbues every page, this story becomes more gripping with every life the architect tries to save.
My Review: This was an impressive debut novel that hit all the major points that I love in a historical fiction read: vivid settings, wonderfully diverse, well-developed characters and a story line that was suspenseful and moved at a good pace. This book has officially gotten me out of my slight reading slump!
I'm an avid reader of WWII/Holocaust reads but this book surprised me by bringing a compelling premise to the table surrounding Lucien, the architect at the centre of the story who hid Jews and their supporters 'in plain sight'. I found these architectural details that Belfoure, as an architect himself, added to the story fascinating. But it was Lucien's personal transformation that truly stood out for me. The reader witnesses Lucien's struggle with his desire to be a successful architect in Paris and the fact that in order to do this he has to work with the Nazis who have brought such devastation and pain to his city. The changes in his attitude and motives were convincing and believable.
It was eye-opening reading the descriptions of what life was like living in Nazi occupied Paris, for Jews as well as Gentiles. The majority of the people struggled while the rich were able to scrape by and the Nazis took whatever they wanted. Life was so volatile as Parisians lived in complete terror that the Nazis would learn that you were a Jew or the suspicion that you may be helping to protect Jews. Their tactics were ruthless, obsessive and shocking making it not surprising to see neighbours turn upon neighbours in order to protect themselves.
If I had to list a negative I'd have to say that there were a couple of situations that seemed too coincidental but always ended up helping the main characters in the end. Could these things realistically happen? Perhaps. In war-torn Nazi infested Paris during the war? Um, I'm not so sure. But I'll suspend reality just a bit because the architectural aspect and the characters were so interesting.
This was a very impressive debut novel that had a lot of the items that I think make a good read - memorable characters, interesting premise, full of some seriously nail-biting suspenseful situations as well as some heart-wrenching scenes. But it is Lucien's transformation that is at the heart of this wonderful book.
My Rating: 4/5 stars