While Paris Slept by Ruth Druart is a World War Two story with a difference. It focusses on the lives of two couples and how one incident, a decision made in seconds, challenges the four people involved to define their own perception of true, selfless love and the heart-wrenching sacrifices this may mean.
This is a dual-timeline story. It starts in 1953, California. One morning the police call at the home of Jean-Luc Beauchamp and take him in for questioning. He is unsurprised. His wife Charlotte and son Sam do not know what is happening.
Interleaved with the story unfolding in 1953, we see Jean-Luc as a young man in occupied Paris, 1944. He is conscripted as a rail maintenance worker based at the Drancy station from where French Jews were transported to Auschwitz. At weekends he travels home to see his mother in Paris but does not admit the things he sees and suspects. Ashamed that people may think he is a collaborator, he determines to do his part. He is injured in an attempt to damage the rail track and is taken to the German hospital where he is nursed by a young French girl, Charlotte. Charlotte, who took the job at the urging of her mother to do something useful, also wants to fight back against the occupiers. Then one day at Drancy a young woman on her way to Auschwitz, suspecting the fate awaiting her and her husband, thrusts her newborn baby into Jean-Luc’s arms. She says his name is Samuel. What follows is an exploration of the lengths people will go to for the true love of defenceless child. And at the heart of it all, subjected to the decisions made by adults, is Samuel.
It is a detailed story, slow to build, as the early pages add to the definition of the later events. At times I wanted to stay in one timeline for longer, rather than swapping between 1953 and 1944, but this is a powerful emotional story that is worth sticking with.
A strong story that doesn’t turn away from difficult issues; the rights, the wrongs and the hazy bits in between.
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