I received a review copy of this title from Peirene Press. This English version has been translated from the French by Adriana Hunter
France is a four and a half year old little girl, growing up in war time France with her mother. Her father left to fight in World War II when she was an infant, so she only knows him through photographs. In fact, the very concept of a father is alien to her because there are no other examples of fathers to which she is exposed. I was immediately captivated by this short book and drawn into this small child’s recollections about the war and its lasting effects on her family.
Despite the fact that there is war raging on around her, France’s world is very small and happy. She lives with her mother in a two room apartment in occupied Paris and as a spoiled and indulged child she does whatever she pleases. She draws on the walls of her apartment, draws in books, sings at the top of her lungs and has awful table manners. Her mother showers her with constant attention and affection and calls her “my darling.” Her grandmother, who seems to the chid like a cold-hearted disciplinarian, visits France and her mother often but the child has no affection for her. In fact, the child gets rather jealous when her mother and grandmother are talking privately to each other the child does everything she can to interrupt them.
One day France’s mother causally mentions that daddy is coming home. France goes into a panic because she knows, rightly so, that her cozy world with her mother will never be the same. When she meets daddy for the first time she is reticent and fearful. Her father was captured by the Germans and spent years in a German prisoner of war camp. When he is finally able to come home from the hospital, all of France’s routines are completely shattered. Her father loses his temper easily at the ill manners of his small child. When she refuses to finish her dinner he slaps her and when she throws a fit he makes her sit out in the hallway of the apartment by herself. France develops a contempt for her mother for her once beloved who does not intervene on her behalf. But at the same France gradually develops a fondness for her father.
Once he is able to settle his anger and impatience, France’s father is able to show her affection and attention. He begins painting with her and telling her stories. The transformation of this heartwarming father-daughter relationship was my favorite part of the book. As France begins to trust her father, she confides in him a secret about her mother that has been bothering her for a long time. This secret is what finally manages to break apart what was already a fragile marriage. When France’s father moves out and remarries, she must once again navigate the world without a consistent father figure in her life.
I found this book to be clever in its dealing with the point of view of a child. The entire story is seen through the child’s eyes, yet the narrator also interprets for us the underlying feelings and emotions of the child, so we get a deeper glimpse into the thoughts of her life and her surroundings. The sentences are short and sometimes only a word or two which is fitting for a narrator who is a small child. And throughout the book she is rarely called by her name but instead she is referred to as “the child,” as if she were unimportant, a non-entity to the adults around her. This is another beautiful and powerful book from Peirene Press and it gave me a new perspective about the tragedies of war and how they affect the youngest and most vulnerable among us.
This is the second book in the Peirene Fairy Tale series. I am always eager to read another Peirene and this book was absolutely fantastic. I can’t wait for the third, and final book, in the Fairy Tale selections. Please visit the Peirene website for more information on this book and to read a sample: http://www.peirenepress.com/books/fairy_tale/peirene_no_20/PLINK
About the Author:
Marie Sizun is a prize-winning French author. She was born in 1940 and has taught literature in Paris, Germany and Belgium. She now lives in Paris. She has published seven novels and a memoir. Marie Sizun wrote her first novel, Her Father’s Daughter, at the age of 65. The book was long-listed for the Prix Femina