On New Year’s Day in contemporary Paris, a Frenchwoman combs through pages of Le Figaro to find the name of her 95-year-old grandmother, Gaëlle de Barbet, who is finally listed as a recipient of the Légion d’Honneur. Until then, Gaëlle had gone unrecognized for her heroic efforts in occupied France.
In 1940 Lyon, 16-year-old Gaëlle, a Catholic, experiences a defining moment when she sees her best friend, a Jewish girl, and all her family being taken away. She decides to help in the Huguenots’ efforts to conceal Jewish children in safe homes. Three years later, Gaëlle faces another turning point in her life when she agrees to assist the local German commandant in another surreptitious activity which, although not immoral, is perceived as such. Soon, Gaëlle pays for it by having her hair shorn and experiences other indecent acts perpetrated by the locals. Arriving alone in Paris, she is hired on the spot as a model by Dior. Although Gaëlle finds love, fame, and fortune in America, and eventually returns to France, she longs for a bond with her daughter.
This is Danielle Steel’s latest fictional drama about love, family, tragedy, and interpersonal relationships. The WWII settings in the early part of the novel are evocative and add to its allure. The author has researched the period extensively; it had also figured in some of her previous works, such as Jewels (1992). While most of the characters are well developed, it seems strange that an attractive young Frenchwoman doesn’t find love at all during the war years. Somewhat disappointingly, the novel’s post-WWII plotline reverts to a formulaic story about the lavish lives of the rich and famous. However, while some may find the narrative heavy on exposition, the dialogue is impeccable. An entertaining novel to read by the fireplace.