Friday, July 2, 2010
Amandine de Crecy, a motherless girl being raised in a convent in the south of France, is the central character in this novel set on the cusp of the Second World War. Abandoned at the convent by her birth family, Amandine is raised by the nuns and a former novitiate, Solange Jouffroi. Amandine dreams of finding her mother, and as France capitulates to the Nazis, she and Solange take to the road in search of information about Amandine's mother. Along the way they face the dangers of Nazi occupation, and are taken under the wing of the French Resistance.
This is a beautifully-written book. The prose is evocative, and wonderfully illustrative of the southern French countryside. The writing is just as beautiful as the cover art. Unfortunately the plot was not nearly so exciting. The first half of the book is nearly all descriptive. Within the walls of the convent very little happens. The plot does get decidedly better once Solange and Amandine take to the road. The pair's journey through war-torn France is suspenseful and danger-ridden. I found the discussion of the French resistance to be extremely interesting, illustrating how the secret networks operated. De Blasi gives a strong sense of the danger and uncertainty that faced all of those involved in the resistance movement: never knowing where one was headed, if one would survive, or the fate of of one's friends and family. There is no romanticizing the violence of resistance here.
The second half of the book is also stronger because it's in the second half of the book that Amandine's character becomes more believable. Amandine grows up in the first half of the book, spending her first decade in the convent. Despite this significant passage of time, her speech, actions, and mannerisms fail to change along with her age. Throughout Amandine acts and speaks as though she is far older than her years. While some of that could be explained by the fact that she is surrounded by adults in the convent, her behavior and speech patterns are simply not believable until she reaches her teenage years. It's not until she grows older that I could really believe in Amandine's mannerisms.
Marlena de Blasi, Amandine (Ballantine, 2010) ISBN: 0345507347