[Full Disclosure: I was given access to this novel through netgalley.com. Thank you Mortal Coil Books. Published: April 18, 2021.]
This is Michael Whatling’s first novel and it’s truly impressive. Awarded four stars on Goodreads.
The book takes place from mid-October to early December 1943. Just seven weeks. But it turns out quite a lot can happen and people can change dramatically in that time when they are living through the horrors of World War II.
Based on a true story, this historical novel begins by meeting the talented French bakers André and Mireille Albert, a married couple with a four year old son, Frédéric, — all three of them living in a small town under German occupation. Food and money are scarce, businesses are feeling pinched, but André and Mireille are devoted to one another and to maintaining their business, which has been in Mireille’s family for generations.
Then one day, happenstance. A random event, born of desperation and terror, changes the Albert’s world forever. And without giving anything away, what happens during the rest of the novel, is the slow unfolding of what happens to people who are tested by circumstances. The range of emotions is exhaustive. Panic, guilt, fury, lust, shame, fear — just to name a few. Whatling looks at how such dispiriting experiences can alter people. Even in a short period of time.
This is a taxing, emotional novel, often difficult to read. But it’s also powerful in its ability to translate the whole experience of war into the story of one small family. It is also masterful in exposing the strange, varied, and sometimes pitiful processing of the human mind under pressure. Like me, you will no doubt end the book realizing that no one escapes any war unscathed. Strongly recommended.
More about the author, Michael Whatling.