A Jewish Girl in Paris

Written by Jamie Lee Searle (trans.) Melanie Levensohn
Review by Karen Warren

It is 1940, and Judith lives with her mother in a small flat in Paris. She is a student at the Sorbonne and works in its library. Although Jewish, she and her mother regard themselves as French, until the occupying Nazis threaten the stability of their existence. At the same time, she forms a relationship with Christian, the son of wealthy Nazi sympathisers. Meanwhile, in 2006, Béatrice works for the World Bank in Washington, DC. A chance encounter leads her to befriend an elderly woman who wants to search for the half-sister she never knew. While assisting in the search for Judith, Béatrice meets the sympathetic Grégoire, but will he be able to help with the mounting problems in her own life, both at work and at home?

The book is based on the author’s family history, and Judith’s part of the story is adapted from the diaries of a relative who was caught up in the Nazi atrocities. It is—unfortunately—a familiar tale, but with the twist of Judith’s relationship with Christian, who comes from a very different background yet sympathises with her plight. And Béatrice’s story gives us some insight into the work of the Registry of Holocaust Survivors, which painstakingly researches and records the details of those who survived the concentration camps.

I found the novel a little uneven at first, and it took a while for the different threads to come together. And the plot felt slightly contrived at times. However, once I got into the story, I was keen to learn how it all turned out. The true story element of this book will make it essential reading for anyone with an interest in wartime Paris.