Friday, 5 March 2021

Where Irises Never Grow by Paulette Mahurin

shortlisted for Book of the Month


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Fictional Drama
2017 /  1939-42 WWII 
Los Angeles / Lyon, France

While researching her dissertation, Monica Chastain purchases a rare, antique copy of Aesop’s Fables. Inside the spine, she finds a sliver of newsprint with what appears to be a swastika, two names and the date 1942 written in the margin. The two names are Madeline Leblanc and Madeline Eisenberg. With her dissertation finished and accepted, Monica has time on her hands to explore the intriguing note and see where it leads.

From that point on, the narrative switches to September 3rd 1939, the day France declared war on Germany and the same day that the parents of a 17-year-old Jew, Agnès Eisenberg, are involved in a fatal accident. Fortunately for Agnès, she is taken in by good friends of her mother’s, Victor and Charlotte Legrand. They live in Lyon, in the area controlled by the Vichy government, where collaboration means the rounding up of Jews for extermination. 

The Legrands risk their own lives to protect Agnès when she meets and falls in love with a member of the resistance and has a baby. With the arrival of the sadistic Klaus Barbie, the ‘Butcher of Lyon’ the net begins to close in on both Jews and members of the resistance. Barbie’s dungeon is the place where irises, France’s national flower, never grow.

The three main characters are all too human in their weaknesses and strengths, their loyalty, compassion and fears, their oscillating emotions. The author’s prose is so authentic that the reader is inescapably bound with them in the same rooms as they listen for the dread arrival of the Nazis. It is an excruciating depiction of what so many went through during the Hitler regime. I felt their terror and shared their frantic hope for an avenue of escape to open before the Butcher came for them.

The goodness and decency of the Legrands stands in sharp contrast to the viciousness of Klaus Barbie, just as the selfless courage of the resistance, those who helped them and those who risked their lives by sheltering and helping Jews, shines all the brighter when compared with the cowardly collaboration of the Vichy Government.

This is an excellent novel, well-written and steeped in the awful atmosphere of Lyon during those years. Some readers might find the descriptions of torture disturbing. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Susan Appleyard
 e-version reviewed


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1 comment:

  1. A heartfelt thank you to Susan Appleyard for reading my book and this marvelous thoughtful review. Paulette

    ReplyDelete

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