Thanks to the lovely Sarah, representing publisher Bookouture, for allocating me a space on this ‘Books On Tour’ feature.
Also thanks to the team at NetGalley, for making the download so simple to acquire
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS
Walking through Montmartre that morning was like the eerie calm right before a storm. The roads were deserted. We carried on, arm in arm, and then finally, we saw them. Columns and columns of soldiers, spreading through the streets like a toxic grey vapour. ‘You must write about this,’ he whispered to me. ‘You must write about the day freedom left Paris.’
1937: Florence has dreamed her whole life of coming to Paris. She arrives on a sweltering summer day and, lost on the steep streets of Montmartre, asks for directions from Otto, a young artist with paint-spattered clothes and the most beautiful smile she has ever seen.
Otto becomes her guide to Paris, taking her to visit paintings in the Louvre and bookshops by the Seine. And when Otto returns home to finish his studies, they vow to reunite on the same spot they met, one year to the day.
Still dreaming of their parting kiss, Florence starts writing for an American newspaper and throws herself into becoming truly Parisian. All too soon, heady days of parties and champagne are replaced by rumours of war. When Otto finally returns to her, it is as an exile, fleeing Nazi persecution.
Soon, not even Paris is safe. Florence’s articles now document life under occupation and hide coded messages from the Resistance. But with the man she loves in terrible danger, her words feel hollow and powerless. If Florence risks everything by accepting a dangerous mission, can she rescue their dreams from that sunny day before the war?
As a child, Siobhan’s parents never invested in a television, so she quickly learnt to love books. Inevitably her love of reading grew into a love of writing and the dream of one day having a shelf of her own books.
Siobhan set of for University to study English Literature, but two years into her degree, her confidence failed her and she dropped out.
After four years of working in a series of jobs which she hated, she came to an important realisation: “life can be a very dull and dark place when you don’t dare to dream.” So she dusted off her literary dreams and instead of seeing writing as some kind of rarefied world, she decided to approach it as she would any other job, starting small and working her way up. She began her quest writing short stories and articles for weekly women’s magazines and having these published gave her the confidence to finally have a go at writing her first book.
That book was published in 2000. Fast forward 20 years and Siobhan has a string of best-selling books and book awards, for both adults and young adults, under her belt.
Siobhan enjoys helping other people with their writing, in her work as a content writer, editor, ghost writer and writing coach.
She has also written for many newspapers, magazines and websites; has been a guest on various radio and TV shows; and spoken at businesses, schools, universities and literary festivals around the world!
“life can be a very dull and dark place when you don’t dare to dream.”
Keep up with all Siobhan’s latest news at her website
Connect with Siobhan on Facebook
Follow Siobhan on Twitter
CHAPTER ONE – FLORENCE
JUNE 1937 – NEW YORK
“As the ship’s horn let out an almighty blast, I turned away from the crowds of people lining the harbour – the men raising their hats, the women waving their handkerchiefs – and tilted my face to the sun”
“Dramatic sighs were Rosalie’s speciality, and she seemed to reserve the most dramatic for me. But what she didn’t understand was that I was never running from things, I was always running to them. To something better, brighter, more filled with adventure”
“But somehow, I lost sight of my original goal and I lost sight of me, and I got swayed by the money…”
“I looked at one of the tigers Lady Hamilton-Jones had imported from India, pacing up and down inside its gilded cage. It felt like the perfect metaphor for the party, all of us trapped inside a glittering prison that shone so bright, most of us were too dazzled to see the bars. This was the column I burned to write, but I knew Harry would have my guts for garters if I filed it”
“The war had always seemed so far removed from Sage before, something terrible that had happened to other people, another lifetime ago. The thought of her own grandmother being so directly affected sent a shiver down her spine”
“This is perfect!” Otto exclaimed, opening the book and inhaling its pages. I took this as yet another sign that he was indeed my kindred spirit – is there any aroma sweeter than the musty scent of a book?”
“It’s funny. I’d never had a problem telling a white lie before, especially if it was to save the other person’s feelings, but with Otto, lying just didn’t seem to be an option. I felt as if he could see right through me”
“But on balance, I think I’m glad that we don’t know our future. If nothing else, it enables us to move forward with hope in our hearts instead of despair”
“The pressures had polluted her perspective on everything. By constantly needing to present her life as perfect, she’d become blind to all of the imperfect beauty surrounding her. And she’d become incapable of living in the moment, constantly framing her experiences in terms of whether or not they’d make great content. But since she’d been here, in the wild, rugged beauty of Arkansas, she’d had glimpses of how her life could be, and for the first time in years she felt truly excited”
“That day in the hospital, watching her mother die, she’d felt something inside of her close up like a drawbridge. The enormity of what had happened was too huge for her to process, so she hadn’t processed it at all. She’d carried on living her life online as if everything was perfect, and at night she’d numbed the pain by drinking herself into oblivion. But now there was no escape. She’d burned her pretend perfect life down to the ground”
“We were together, I forget the rest” – (by Walt Whitman)
Apart from that lovely review header, which is the line from a poem by Walt Whitman, whose writing features often in the book, my own initial thoughts (having first dried my eyes – my goodness, how those tissues are getting used just lately!) and what immediately came to mind, were the opening lines from the soundtrack to the 1970 film ‘Love Story’, as they kind of summed up the entire reading experience so succinctly:
“Where do I begin, to tell the story, of how great a love can be”
I can hear some of you already with the word ‘cheesy’ on your lips, but if you think this, you seriously need to read this book for yourself, and I’ll bet you change your mind pretty darn quick. This is definitely one of those books which takes each reader on a unique and individual journey of discovery, although it is difficult to put all those feelings and thoughts into words, without giving away too many storyline spoilers.
This multi-layered story is so much more than a beautifully portrayed war time romance, although that is obviously the core theme. However, wrapped around that, there is a layer of social history, which takes the reader on a journey of discovery about what it was like to be French in war time occupied France, to be an alien in another country which has been occupied by a common enemy and perhaps, most poignantly, what it was like to be Jewish in a Nazi occupied country. Peel back the layers even further and surrounding all of that, we have a contemporary coming of age story, of finding oneself, discovering your family roots and dynamics and experiencing a true and honest sense of belonging and inclusion – of coming home!
From a phone call out of the blue and via the emotional and candid diaries, finally written by an elderly lady who knows she is approaching the end of her life, this story travels full circle, from a man and his daughter on a farm in Arkansas, USA; via Paris, France; onto England; and many decades later, back to that same farm in Arkansas to another man and his niece. One family, many journeys!
Author Siobhan Curham has written a richly crafted, desperately intense story, full of heart, happiness, loss and longing. Together with a powerful strength and resilience in the face of adversity, of loyalty and a sense of doing the right thing and fearlessly fighting for the cause against the common enemy. The narrative is written fluidly, seamlessly and alternately in two voices and dual timelines, between Florence and her granddaughter Sage.
The natural peaks and troughs of the well constructed, evenly paced plot, have the atmosphere alternating between crackling with suspense, suspicion and tension; to the gentle sigh and release of a long-held breath, the sudden lifting of a burden of guilt, the discovery of genuine friendships, and the joy of loving and being loved in equal measure.
A compelling, profoundly touching story, effortlessly written with total total authority and consummate confidence by an author whose words conjure up a visually descriptive sense of time and place; from the peacetime Parisian artisan cobbled streets of Montmartre, to the wartime concentration camps of the French countryside; from the bustling 21st Century metropolitan streets of London, to the ranch lands of Arkansas where time takes on a whole slower pace. I closed my eyes and could almost imagine myself in any one of those locations, a bystander to the unfolding drama around me.
Siobhan affords that same attention to detail and and visual inclusion, to her cast of characters, no matter how small a part they play in the whole. They are well drawn and defined and whilst not all are easy to connect or empathise with, the overall dynamics and synergy between them, makes them completely investable and genuine in their individual roles.
Ultimately though, this is the poignant story of one man, Otto and one woman, Florence; whose enduring story and everlasting love transcends everything, including death.
A complimentary download of this book for review purposes, was made available by Bookouture and supplied by NetGalley
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars and a place on my favourites shelf!
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