The Dressmaker of Paris

Written by Georgia Kaufman
Review by Edward James

This is not my kind of book, the life story of a seamstress who becomes the millionaire owner of a fashion chain. Yet in a few pages I was hooked and read it to the end as quickly as life allowed.

The novel is structured as a mother’s reminiscence to her daughter, but otherwise it is strictly chronological, with no dual narratives, flashbacks, time slips or other literary devices. It begins in 1944 when the heroine, Rosa, is sixteen, and runs to 1992. As with most life stories, the early years are the most interesting, as Rosa moves from being an innkeeper’s daughter in the Nazi-occupied South Tyrol to becoming a refugee in Switzerland, a struggling seamstress in post-war Paris and a successful businesswoman in Brazil. It is the story of Cinderella that goes on for 40 years after she meets Prince Charming. Then before the story can begin to flag, Rosa goes back to Europe in search of her lost family and the child she gave up for adoption, a search that takes her from Switzerland to Israel, East Germany, and New York.

The story is closely anchored in contemporary events, and we always know the date and place of every incident. It is difficult to believe that it is not an autobiography, but the author assures us that only one passage is autobiographical and then doesn’t say which. An outstanding debut novel.