My rating: 5 of 5 stars
At least 34,000 women were involved in prostitution, be it by choice or forced upon them during World War Two. There were brothels even in the concentration camps and the Germans took over many of the existing brothels around Europe to ‘service’ their troops.
This book is about a brothel in Occupied Paris at 12 Rue Ercol. And easy way for a man to know it was a brothel was the colourful number plate above the front door, which differed greatly from the staid blue and white number plates on ‘respectable’ houses.
We are introduced to Claudette, a young woman in the Resistance who is sent to work as a maid in the brothel, to spy on German officers who were partaking of the services there. Swept up into the life of the brothel, Claudette falls in love with a German Officer and begins a dangerous sexual relationship with him. Secrets and choices are made culminating in the end of the war and the further humiliation of the women who were publically shamed by means of rape and having their heads shaved for ‘horizontally collaborating’ with the occupying force.
Alternating chapters introduce us, 70 years later, to Connie, who wants to untangle the web of lies and explain the all encompassing depression of her friend Freddy, who commits suicide in the first chapter. Unravelling the mystery surrounding Freddy’s mother and the truth of her role in the brothel during the war becomes more apparent. There is a minor love story explored in the contemporary section of the book.
Historical fiction and contemporary fiction blend together beautifully in this novel. A fascinating book delving into a part of World War Two that is, to this day, still an uncomfortable part of French history. The characters and scenes are well drawn, the mystery is engaging.
Quite simply, I couldn’t put this book down.