I went into this book having been told that I would love it if I was a fan of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls, which I was. Those two stories were an introduction to historical fiction, and have inevitably become the measuring stick to which all other HF books are now held.
I did enjoy The Room on Rue Amelie, but it didn’t resonate for me the way The Nightingale and Lilac Girls once did. I will say that I tend not compare books to one another, especially when they are by different authors, so perhaps my expectations were a little high.
The Room on Rue Amelie is a story about Ruby Henderson Benoit, a newly married American girl who moved to Paris to be with her new French husband. Despite the worries of an oncoming world war, Ruby is enamoured by the dream of living in the glamorous Paris as a newlywed couple.
Once the war becomes inevitable, Ruby vows to stay by her husband’s side, even though she could have easily returned to North America safely before France becomes Nazi occupied territory. Slowly, her marriage loses its shine and begins to crumble quicker than the advancing army, and Ruby finds herself trapped in a life that she did not sign up for.
Across the pond, British Royal Air Force pilot Thomas Clarke prepares to defend his country in the sky. After being shot down over Paris, Thomas finds himself in Nazi occupied territory and on the run. As discreetly as possible, Thomas makes his way to Paris to in search of a rumoured escape route back to Britain.
Meanwhile, Ruby’s neighbour, Charlotte, is a young Jewish girl coming to terms with having to sew a yellow star onto all of her clothing.
When the occupation heightens and many citizens begin to be hauled away to internment camps, Ruby’s, Thomas’ and Charlotte’s paths cross, never to be the same.
Reminiscent of Pearl Harbour or the Titanic, The Room on Rue Amelie is a romanticized perspective of a moment in history. Though there are areas that focus on the resistance, on concentration camps and on the realities of living in Europe in the 1940’s, The Room on Rue Amelie is more of a love story than anything. I found it compelling and entertaining, but an unrealistic representation of the climate in which it is set. Then again, perhaps Harmel chose to gloss over the heavier stuff to shed a light on some of the beauty that still persisted during a time of war.
Reviewed by: Annie
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