The Paris Daughter

Written by Kristin Harmel
Review by Dorothy Schwab

In 1939, days before Hitler invades Poland, two Americans cross paths in a Paris suburban park. Elise LeClair, on a walk to escape her demanding artist husband, Olivier, meets grieving Juliette Foulon, owner of the Bookshop of Dreams.

Kristin Harmel sets the stage for a lifelong friendship between the mothers and their newborn baby girls, while drawing sharp contrasts in the personalities and political beliefs of their husbands. Elise is feeling invisible as Olivier becomes passionately, overtly Communist, endangering her and their daughter, Mathilde. Meanwhile, Juliette lives a quiet life in the bookshop with protective husband Paul, baby Lucie, and two sons. By the time Mathilde and Lucie are three years old, political and world events have led to Elise’s excruciating decision that to protect Mathilde, she will take on a new identity and leave her daughter to live in relative safety with Juliette’s family.

Harmel’s plot revolves around innocent civilians being bombed and living with fear and helplessness, exploring how Juliette and Elise survive the aftermath of war through 1960. Following the plight of Jewish widow Ruth Levy, separated from her children, the narrative reveals the inner strength required to endure trauma and face adversity.  Connecting readers to current events in Ukraine, a key historical thread is that of orphanages established to reunite children with their families. Themes of home, family, and the mystery of survival strategies are emphasized.

Divided into three parts and based on the real-life Allied bombing raids of the German-controlled Renault factory in Paris, Harmel’s historical mystery crisscrosses the Atlantic, focusing on how coping with loss and grief is personal and individual. The novel shows strong character development and emotional, compelling plot twists, supported by superb historical research.