The Gypsy Madonna

Written by Santa Montefiore
Review by Cathy Kemp

During the occupation of France in the Second World War, “horizontal” collaboration with the German occupying forces resulted in ostracism for the women involved. Mischa was the bastard offspring of one such alliance, whose earliest memory was of the retribution exacted by the local townspeople on his mother in front of the whole town, including Père Abel-Louis. The effect of this episode on the infant, Mischa, resulted in his loss of speech. This only reinforced his isolation from the majority within the local community.

Fortunately for both Mischa and his mother, a handsome stranger who goes by the name of “Coyote” arrives in Mauriac and within a short period they depart with surprising speed for a new life together in America. “Coyote” turns out to be a very wily individual, and though he is instrumental is helping the young Mischa recover his voice and get started on a new life, he is not one to dwell in one place for long. Mischa’s mother cannot bring herself to acknowledge that he has left them for good and continues to lay his place at the table.

Mystery surrounds the various characters within this story and the acquisition of an unknown Titian—The Gypsy Madonna. The bequeathing of this work of art to the Metropolitan Museum on his mother’s death confuses him. Mischa’s journey to retrace his history, enabling him to understand better his life and his true self, eventually exposes those unknowns from his early life.

The plot is capably executed, but not particularly period-dependent. This is essentially romantic rather than historical fiction and is a non-challenging light read.