A young woman’s future is torn away in a heartbeat. Herded on to a train bound for Auschwitz, in an act of desperation she entrusts her most precious possession to a stranger. All she has left now is hope.
Santa Cruz 1953
Jean-Luc thought he had left it all behind. The scar on his face a small price to pay for surviving the horrors of Nazi Occupation. Now, he has a new life in California, a family. He never expected the past to come knocking on his door.
On a darkened platform, two destinies become entangled. Their choice will change the future in ways neither could have imagined…
As a reader, I have always loved historical fiction and so I picked up While Paris Slept by Ruth Druart with much excitement.
Here is a remarkable story about how the destinies of two people become entwined by one moment during WW2, that has consequences long after the horror of war has ended.
War is always a brutal act, yet often novels ignore this, they gloss over the cruelty and focus on the big events, consigning the voices of people like Jean-Luc and the young women of the story to obscurity. What I loved about While Paris Slept was this novel gives a voice to the personal tragedies of those caught up in war, with a story that left me emotionally drained and heartbroken, quite fitting when the story it tells, contains tragedy as well as selfless acts of bravery. All this occurs within a narrative that floats between Paris 1944 to Santa Cruz in 1953, allowing the author to show that the decisions made by ordinary people in an occupied country during wartime, are often driven by desperation, strategies to cope in a world of extremes. The narrative explores the issue of what people are prepared to do in times of great danger to protect those they love and how some choose to resist and others to simply be. Best of all there is no judgment, no attempt to shame, just a simple acceptance that war is madness written large and those caught up in it don’t always act how we expect them to. While Paris Slept asked me to think how I would act, to take a journey with characters, that though they are fictional, represent people that lived those lives and faced those terrible judgment calls day after day. It balances excitement and drama with a very real feeling story, that grabbed me and whirled me through historical drama at it’s very best.
The cast of characters is varied and I couldn’t help but love them all. Ruth Druart delivered people who felt real and tangible and I found myself acknowledging that it was fine to feel moments of frustration with their actions, given the context of their lives. Jean Luc is written as a man who knows working with the Germans is wrong, but worries about the consequences for those he loves, if he acts. His ability to free himself of the fetters of the society he has grown up in, makes him adaptable and the type of man you would want at your side in times of crisis. Charlotte, passionate, looking for purpose, feels constrained by her parents refusal to resist, making her sometimes blind to how her actions threaten the wellbeing of others. Spikey and quick to judge, she feels like a fine wine, needing maturity in order to see that sometimes quiet resistance during war, takes immense levels of bravery. Then there is Sarah, full of love, persecuted for being Jewish, a character whose quiet courage both inspired me as a reader and called out from the pages as a reminder of a people who lived through the darkest of times. Her enduring hope of finding her loved ones, created in me a deep felt love of a women, whose courage seems to escape the boundaries of the novel and call out to future generations to never ever forget! Quieter is David her husband whose role in the novel seems to be support her story and yet he comes into own in a way that felt particularly poignant and moving.
Here is an historical drama both nuanced and brave enough to tell a story that will play with the emotions of a reader, but never seeks to trivialise events with melodrama. Ruth Druart lays out a story full of quiet moments, that allow the reader to absorb the power of her story. Of course there is drama, but it is played out against the theatre of war and never loses sight of what matters, characters whose stories keep you turning those pages, because of the power of their story ignites a deep seated emotional reaction in the heart of the reader. People, place, plot, purpose, all combined to tell a story that feels epic and yet quietly intimate.
About the author
Ruth Druart grew up on the Isle of Wight, moving away at the age of eighteen to study psychology at Leicester University. She has lived in Paris since 1993, where she has followed a career in teaching. She has recently taken a sabbatical, so that she can follow her dream of writing full-time.