Marlena De Blasi- Amandine: A Novel
Source: My own purchase
Synopsis: (From Goodreads) Betrayal and a double suicide are among the legacies bequeathed by an aristocratic Polish family to a frail baby girl, illegitimately born in 1931. Ostensibly to protect her young daughter from shame, but at least as much to vindicate her own unhealed anguish, the child’s grandmother, the countess Valeska, abandons the infant in a convent in the south of France, convincing her daughter of her baby’s death. Bright, curious, fearless, the child Amandine wants to know who she is, who is her mother, and where she comes from. Championed by Solange – her young French governess – and tormented by the aging Abbess and the convent’s flock of spoiled upper-class students, Amandine confronts the tragic events of her childhood with unusual courage and grace. As war looms outside the convent doors, Solange and Amandine flee their oppressors, setting out for Solange’s childhood home in the north. What begins as a two-day journey by train becomes a perilous years-long odyssey across Occupied France.
Review: Amandine is Marlena De Blasi’s first novel following much success with her travel memoirs that tell a tale of her falling in love with a Venetian man and moving to Italy where she moves from Venice to the countryside. I really quite enjoy De Blasi’s writing style which is full of rich pose and poetic descriptions of sceneries, cultures and cuisine. See my reviews for A Thousands Days in Venice and Tuscan Secrets.
Amandine is a baby girl who is born into a Polish family out of wedlock and is taken to a French convent to be raised by young caregiver Solange who becomes a mother-figure. Amandine wishes to seek out her mother, only her mother was not aware that she survived after the grandmother lied to her of the child’s fate. Amandine grows up in the convent and then at about age ten her and Solange make their way back to Solange’s family home to try and seek information about Amandine’s mother. Their journey is during the Second World War.
Amandine shows off De Blasi’s beautiful writing style but at times I felt a little lost. There are various character perspectives told throughout the book but not of Amandine’s. I think my expectations of this book interfered with me being able to enjoy it. I had an image that this book would be about Amandine as a grown woman searching for her mother; rather it is about Amandine as a young child and the lives of the adults around her. Amandine is merely a passive presence for most of this story. Although the storyline sounded intriguing, it did not deliver as it was a slow build- up of character development with limited plot advancement. It is not until just before halfway through the book (about page 190!) that I finally became immersed in the story as things started to happen. It was very sad to read the experiences of Amandine and Solange as they trample through the countryside during the war. And I was very disappointed by Solange’s fate in this story.
I must say the biggest disappointment for this novel was the ending. It was building up to Amandine and her mother being reunited only to finish up with an ambiguous ending which really drives me crazy! I had to re-read it just to make sure I got it right. I find these kinds of endings really frustrating as I tend to second-guess whether what I think has happened are really the author’s intention. So, I finished up the novel with a feeling of doubt which is not a great way to end a story!
Despite my disappointments, De Blasi is a very skilled writer and she illustrates the life of a young European girl caught up in the conflict of the adults around her and a brutally honest depiction of the Second World War. If you enjoy a story with rich prose and intriguing characters then Amandine is the perfect novel to sink your teeth into.
Rating 3/ 5
Also by Marlena De Blasi: (Click on cover to go to Goodreads page)