I was rather disappointed with this book, and I think part of it definitely had to do with my expectations. Leslie Maitland is a journalist, and she wrote this book to document her family’s history and to chronicle her search for her mother’s long lost love, Roland. As a result, I think I may have been expecting something more along the lines of The Lost or Annie’s Ghosts, books that involved their authors digging into their family history (and secrets in one case) and telling the reader about all the research they had to do, the places this research led them before they were finally able to piece together a picture of the past. In these cases, the research process was just as interesting as the actual backstory. Unfortunately, all the research in this book takes place behind the scenes, mostly to confirm her mother’s story or to find out what happened to certain people that had made a difference in her mom’s lives, and the reader for the most part gets the story.
Generally, this isn’t a bad thing – after all, I read novels because I like a story, but this story dragged on too much and seemed to be unsure of what it wanted to be. Am I reading an epic love story? It didn’t feel like it, it felt more like young teenagers discovering their first love, and its importance was naturally inflated over their lives after other relationships disappointed them. And I didn’t even find the lovers that likable, especially Roland. Is it a story of a family’s escape from the Holocaust and the Nazis? It works a bit more in this way but there is so much detail that it bogged down the actual book, and I couldn’t even keep track of which maid was which. Janine, the author’s mother, was a teenager when she and her family fled to France’s Alsace region from Germany, and she was from a well to do family with resources and relatives in many places. While many well-to-do Jewish families perished in the Holocaust, Janine was lucky in that her parents recognized the threat early enough to apply for visas and get out. It also helped that they had business relations in France, thus giving them options and making the idea of packing up and leaving a bit easier to face. Once the Germans take back the Alsace area, they flee to other areas of France before finally being on one of the last ships to leave for Morrocco and then Cuba before finally ending up in the States.