Here’s a fast-paced novel about wine, women, and World War II. Awarded four stars on Goodreads.
Author Ann Mah is a food and travel writer, known more as a writer of food-related books than as a novelist. But in this novel, she offers up a fairly compelling story, in addition to a bit too much detail about protagonist Kate’s efforts to pass the notoriously difficult Master of Wine test. For me, a devotee of historical fiction, the part of the story that explored French life during the World War II German Occupation was MUCH more interesting than learning about either winemaking or a wine test.
Kate’s family has been making unique wines in France for generations, though she now works as a sommelier in San Francisco. During a visit to help her French relatives with the grape harvest, she comes across both her former fiancee AND a series of family secrets involving a mysterious ancestor (Helene) who no one in the family will talk about. Add in a cellar full of old books, one personal diary, a few false walls, and some coded messages and letters– and you have plenty to keep the plot moving along.
But without question, the most fascinating aspect of this book was the brief description of the “épuration sauvage” (translation: wild purge) –a brutal and humiliating public retaliation French mobs (usually men) enacted on thousands of French women toward the end of the war, accusing them (often falsely) of collaborating with the Germans. In what was actually a violent case of overt sexism (male collaborators were NOT punished in this way), these women were stripped, shaved, beaten, spat upon, and, in about 6,000 cases, murdered. Some of these victims had been raped by German soldiers; others had been struggling to keep their children alive during the war. Not surprisingly, a shameful story I had never heard before. And one that I will now read more about.
More about Ann Mah.