News of Our Loved Ones
Geneviève Delasalle, then 19, was in Paris in 1944, away from her family in Normandy when her home was the stage for the Allied invasion that would be the beginning of the end of World War II.
This lovely book, a lyrical distillation of a French family’s loves and secrets over generations, touches three eras: the small-town piety and repressions before the war, the appalling deprivations and injustices of the war, and the excesses and voids afterwards. The author, Abigail DeWitt, puts them all together like puzzle pieces clicking into place. Attitudes change over the decades about infidelity, which plays a major part in the family’s history. Each episode is told without judgment or prurience, although often with a sweet humor.
The story skips effortlessly through the decades, a little like poetry. I had a hard time putting it down and got little sleep on the night I finished the book. I also wanted to read it again—immediately—a little like I sometimes want to read a good poem two or three times, one after another.
This is a classic, like Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française, and the mystery to me was how a North Carolinian author could make it so real. Then I read that DeWitt spent her childhood summers in the Alps, and that her mother was French. So she experienced that displacement herself, from prosperous America to still-poor France, and could see her own French family with both love and perspective.
DeWitt managed to put me in the longing and regret of the moments in this novel. She did it in a way that made me feel as though I was glimpsing a shimmering truth—not witnessing wrenching tragedy. I’ve recommended this novel to several friends, both French and American.