Marlena de Blasi, the acclaimed author of such delectable memoirs as A Thousand Days in Venice and That Summer in Sicily, now brings her luminous prose to the world of fiction with this remarkable debut novel. Set against the backdrop of Europe as it moves inexorably toward World War II, Amandine follows a young orphan’s journey in search of her heritage.
The story opens in Krakow in 1931, as a baby girl is conceived out of wedlock, the byproduct of a foolish heart and a tragic inheritance. The child’s grandmother, a countess, believes that she is protecting her daughter when she claims that the baby didn’t survive. In truth, however, she deposits the infant at a remote convent in the French countryside, leaving her with a great sum of money and in the care of a young governess named Solange.
Solange takes it upon herself to give the child a distinctive name, Amandine, and the two form a special bond. But even Solange’s unconditional love cannot protect her charge. Mistrusted by both the abbess and the convent girls, the unusually astute and curious Amandine finds her childhood filled with challenges and questions: Who is she? Where does she come from?
Eventually, Solange is forced to choose between the terrors of the convent and those of a global war looming outside its doors. Thus, with a purseful of worthless francs and a sack of provisions, the two flee north toward Solange’s childhood home. But what should have been a two-day journey by train becomes a perilous, years-long odyssey across Occupied France—and deeper into the treacheries of war.
Tracing the flight of Amandine and Solange while peering into the lives of the countess and her daughter, Amandine’s mother, who still mourns and dreams of the child she thinks she lost forever, Marlena de Blasi’s epic novel winds its way toward a dramatic and compelling conclusion, as mother and daughter draw ever nearer. Amandine is a sumptuous tale of identity and survival, persistent hope and unexpected love.
WHAT I THOUGHT
The opening of this story still makes me think how on earth was this allowed to happen? How can a mother tell her daughter her baby did not survive and then shift that baby off for a potentially lifelong lie? And then I think to myself, I know this is a fictional story but these things have happened in reality in the past and will more than likely happen again in the future, although it may be harder to carry out these days. It’s sad. It leaves me feeling very sad for all of those concerned, for Amandine, for her mother, her grandmother, Solange and everyone else Amandine’s life touched. How can one know the true Amandine when she doesn’t know who she truly is?
I could make this a long review, give a lot of time to explaining what happened, how I thought about certain situations and characters, how this is a book about searching for one’s self, et cetera, but I won’t be doing that. Good, you’re probably thinking, I don’t want to read a long review – ha ha. I will however briefly touch on the brilliant job Marlena de Blasi did with her characters.
One thing I will say about this book and Marlena de Blasi’s writing is I loved the characters – even those I loved to hate. Amandine is just gorgeous and I wanted the best for her. Solange is an angel sent from heaven. Mater Paul seems emotionless but you just know you’re not getting the full story with regard to her. I never gave up on Mater Paul. The aforementioned three characters would be the main characters but there are a whole team of others who add to this story and also Amandine’s life. Marlena’s descriptions of the characters made me feel for them as if they were people I knew and I believe if the character development hadn’t been just so then the story would have suffered. Marlena gets my praise for this.
Amandine is a book about life, about struggle and about people. It is quite emotional at times and I will admit to the appearance of tears on the bus during one of my reading sessions. I won’t go into what made me cry but will say it was something I will never forget; even thinking about it now I get a shiver.
Overall, a quick comfort read; great characterisation; interesting premise; emotional.
Thank you to Jess at Allen & Unwin for providing me with a copy of Amandine – thank you, Jess.