Sight Magazine – Books: A historical saga with a mystery at its heart
- JEANNET SEVERS
The Parisian secret
Hachette Australia, Sydney, Australia, 2020
“I couldn’t help but think about how this story mimics some of the women of the Bible, especially Sarah, Esther and Ruth, whose lives were strewn with challenges but who were surrounded by women who believed in them, loved them and supported them.”
Covering three continents and spanning from World War I to the present day, The Parisian secret tells the story of four generations of women whose intersecting stories demonstrate the strength, loyalty and love women can bring to their friendships with other women.
The novel sweeps through the adventurous lives of many women, traversing timelines and narratives, taking a light look at World War I and the interwar period, before delving into World War II, then pass to the present day.
It focuses on what the reader believes to be the story of one woman, Margaux Jourdan. Where is it? Who is Margaux Jourdan? Is she a woman or a pen name for a group of women? Is she a pilot, a spy, a traitor, a high fashion model – or a grandmother raising her granddaughter in Australia? And why is Margaux Jourdan important? Is it a character that we should like or not?
Listening to the story in audiobook form, I couldn’t help but reflect on how this story mimics some of the women of the Bible, especially Sarah, Esther and Ruth, whose lives have been dotted challenges but who were surrounded by women who believed they loved and supported them.
There are a number of historical threads that run through The Parisian secret.
Through visionaries like Amelia Earhart to women who transported planes during World War II, Lester explores the historical evolution of female pilots with a collegial feminism that pushes the boundaries and boundaries imposed by patriarchy to detail how they make a difference in wartime.
We also discover women who were spies embedded in France as part of the Resistance and who dated Nazi officers, making enormous sacrifices, including their own lives. We learn about women in concentration camps and the atrocities they suffered – especially at Ravensbruck women’s concentration camp, the last camp to be repatriated months after the end of World War II and which was under leadership of Russian soldiers at the time. .
We hear about Christian Dior and the passion he brought to create stories around the costumes he designed, in honor of his sister, Catherine, also known as Ginette, who was a fighter resistance during World War II. And at the end of the novel, we understand why it is an important thread in The Parisian secret.
The author, Natasha Lester, took historical events and rewrote them from the perspective of women. Lester was honest in his research and treatment of real people in his novel. Story threads are revealed slowly, using two of the current characters as historical researchers, with the reader kept in tune with them throughout the novel.
I was listening The Parisian secret at the same time as Russia invaded Ukraine and, hearing the voices of Ukrainian women speaking of their fear of Russian soldiers during those first weeks, imitated the fear experienced by the women of the Ravensbruck concentration camp and the traumas that they tried to leave behind when they rebuilt their lives in the following decades.
It left me with a deep impression that generational trauma is probably an imprint that, as former American tennis player Arthur Ashe wrote in his autobiography long ago, resurfaces as anger in every generation.
At the end of The Parisian secret, I wondered how the long-kept secrets of generational trauma were going to be interpreted by the fifth generation, today’s children in the novel.