While Paris Slept is World War Two historical fiction, and is the story of two Parisian couples. David and Sarah were loaded onto one of the last trains to Auschwitz; in desperation Sarah gave her newly born baby to a railway worker before she was forced onto the train.
Jean-Luc repaired the Paris railway lines used to transport Jews to the work camp; he hated working for the Germans and wanted to do something to stop them. When a French women desperately forced her baby into his arms before she was herded onto one of the trains, he vowed to look after it. On that day he shot a guard. Fearing the Germans, he left Paris with his girlfriend Charlotte; they went south, escaping to Spain and then America with baby Samuel.
Years later David and Sarah searched for Samuel; they wanted him back, but taking a nine-year-old away from all that he knew was handled badly and didn’t work out the way that they hoped.
The story moves back and forth between several characters in two timelines: 1944 and 1953. The ending tugged on my emotional strings, but I’m afraid that it was the only part of the book which I empathised with.
I’m a fan of books set in this era, but this book didn’t work for me; too many convenient events and situations made this feel like I was hearing about someone else’s story, rather than believing the one being played by these characters. Where was the grit, tension and real fear of arrest from the Germans? Where were the emotions and despair which surrounded the horrors of Auschwitz?
This is a long book, told from multiple points of view; I found myself frustrated by parts which added very little to the story, while other areas glossed over important facts. For instance, the escape through France and across The Pyrenees would have been fraught with terror and hardships, while I doubt very much that you could have walked into the house of a resistance member with ease. Once they got to Spain, it would have been extremely dangerous in the foothills, yet our heroes were welcomed into the first farmhouse that they came to.
A good story potentially exists within the covers of this book; I just wanted it to have deeper character development and a bit more work on making the plot plausible for my liking. I’m sure that there will be readers who will find this story lovely, but I found it disappointing.
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A family’s love is tested when heroes-turned-criminals are forced to make the hardest decisions of their lives in this unforgettably moving story of love, resistance, and the lasting consequences of the Second World War.
After. Santa Cruz, California, 1953. Jean-Luc and Charlotte Beauchamps have left their war-torn memories of Paris behind to live a quiet life in America with their son, Sam. They have a house in the suburbs, they’ve learned to speak English, and they have regular get-togethers with their outgoing American neighbors. Every minute in California erases a minute of their lives before — before the Germans invaded their French homeland and incited years of violence, hunger, and fear. But their taste of the American Dream shatters when officers from the U.N. Commission on War Crimes pull-up outside their home and bring Jean-Luc in for questioning.
Before. Paris, France, 1944. Germany has occupied France for four years. Jean-Luc works at the railway station at Bobigny, where thousands of Jews travel each day to be “resettled” in Germany. But Jean-Luc and other railway employees can’t ignore the rumors or what they see on the tracks: too many people are packed into the cars, and bodies are sometimes left to be disposed of after a train departs. Jean-Luc’s unease turns into full-blown panic when a young woman with bright green eyes bursts from the train one day alongside hundreds of screaming, terrified passengers, and pushes a warm, squirming bundle into his arms.
Told from alternating perspectives, While Paris Slept reflects on the power of love, loss, and the choices a mother will make to ensure the survival of her child. At once a visceral portrait of family ties and a meditation on nurture’s influence over identity, this heartbreaking debut will irreversibly take hold of your heart.