Marlena de Blasi
Ballantine, May 18 2010, $25.00
In 1931 in Krakow, Poland, an unmarried aristocrat gives birth to a female. To protect her foolish unwed daughter, her mother the Countess lies by telling the new mom that the baby died. The grandmother sends her newborn illegitimate granddaughter to a convent in Montpellier, France run by Abbess Mother Paul and raised by a governess Solange Jouffroi, who names the infant Amandine Gilberte Noiret de Crécy.
Mother Paul detests Amandine while the other sisters are wary of her; only Solange loves her ward. Over the years Amandine wonders why her mom and grandma abandoned her and why the abbess overtly displays her loathing. When scarlet fever ravages the convent, Solange takes Amandine with her to stay with her family as the Nazis blitzkrieg of France turns the two day journey by train into a dangerous odyssey.
This is a wonderful historical tale with a nod to Maslow’s Hierarchy; as once the basic biological needs are met, Amandine seeks self actualization by wondering where she belongs. Except for Solange whom she loves as her mom, she fears something is wrong with her for so many to abandon her or loathe her. That sense of identity lost before it is even set make for a strong thriller further anchored in time and place during an era of Nazi atrocities as war engulfs Europe.