“We were together, I forget the rest” – (by Walt Whitman)
- Book: An American In Paris
- Location: Paris
- Author: Siobhan Curham
Apart from that lovely review header, which is the line from a poem by Walt Whitman, whose writing features often in the book, my own initial thoughts (having first dried my eyes – my goodness, how those tissues are getting used just lately!) and what immediately came to mind, were the opening lines from the soundtrack to the 1970 film ‘Love Story’, as they kind of summed up the entire reading experience so succinctly:
“Where do I begin, to tell the story, of how great a love can be”
I can hear some of you already with the word ‘cheesy’ on your lips, but if you think this, you seriously need to read this book for yourself, and I’ll bet you change your mind pretty darn quick. This is definitely one of those books which takes each reader on a unique and individual journey of discovery, although it is difficult to put all those feelings and thoughts into words, without giving away too many storyline spoilers.
This multi-layered story is so much more than a beautifully portrayed war time romance, although that is obviously the core theme. However, wrapped around that, there is a layer of social history, which takes the reader on a journey of discovery about what it was like to be French in war time occupied France, to be an alien in another country which has been occupied by a common enemy and perhaps, most poignantly, what it was like to be Jewish in a Nazi occupied country. Peel back the layers even further and surrounding all of that, we have a contemporary coming of age story, of finding oneself, discovering your family roots and dynamics and experiencing a true and honest sense of belonging and inclusion – of coming home!
From a phone call out of the blue and via the emotional and candid diaries, finally written by an elderly lady who knows she is approaching the end of her life, this story travels full circle, from a man and his daughter on a farm in Arkansas, USA; via Paris, France; onto England; and many decades later, back to that same farm in Arkansas to another man and his niece. One family, many journeys!
Author Siobhan Curham has written a richly crafted, desperately intense story, full of heart, happiness, loss and longing. Together with a powerful strength and resilience in the face of adversity, of loyalty and a sense of doing the right thing and fearlessly fighting for the cause against the common enemy. The narrative is written fluidly, seamlessly and alternately in two voices and dual timelines, between Florence and her granddaughter Sage.
The natural peaks and troughs of the well constructed, evenly paced plot, have the atmosphere alternating between crackling with suspense, suspicion and tension; to the gentle sigh and release of a long-held breath, the sudden lifting of a burden of guilt, the discovery of genuine friendships, and the joy of loving and being loved in equal measure.
A compelling, profoundly touching story, effortlessly written with total total authority and consummate confidence by an author whose words conjure up a visually descriptive sense of time and place; from the peacetime Parisian artisan cobbled streets of Montmartre, to the wartime concentration camps of the French countryside; from the bustling 21st Century metropolitan streets of London, to the ranch lands of Arkansas where time takes on a whole slower pace. I closed my eyes and could almost imagine myself in any one of those locations, a bystander to the unfolding drama around me.
Siobhan affords that same attention to detail and and visual inclusion, to her cast of characters, no matter how small a part they play in the whole. They are well drawn and defined and whilst not all are easy to connect or empathise with, the overall dynamics and synergy between them, makes them completely investable and genuine in their individual roles.
Ultimately though, this is the poignant story of one man, Otto and one woman, Florence; whose enduring story and everlasting love transcends everything, including death.