Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"Mark... we can't be friends. It's too dangerous, too serious. Can't you see what it would mean?"
"That I'm going to have to marry you? Kidnap you... willingly?"
"I'm too afraid, Mark."
"You needn't be afraid."
"We aren't friends, Rose."
And then Mark kissed Rose passionately on a busy Paris street...
Which would be fine, were it not for the fact that this is occupied Paris, 1942, and whilst Rose is a Parisian through and through, Mark is not. No, Mark is an officer in the German army, specifically tasked with locating Jews hiding amongst the populace...
Unfortunately for both of them they've fallen in love at first sight when Mark came to check on an anonymous tip-off regarding Jews hiding in Rose's block of apartments. Rose isn't Jewish, but one of her dear neighbours is, and whilst she's strong enough to protect them, it seems she isn't quite tough enough to save herself from Mark's ardent advances. Not that she wants to stop them, but given her situation, as a young mother with an unloved husband away at war, she might have been wise to.
Their affair starts off as the clandestine type, of course, just one secret of many amongst our extended cast of Rose's family, friends and neighbours in wartime Paris, but it doesn't stay hidden forever. Certainly not with Mark's carefree public displays of affection. But when the tide of the conflict begins to turn and the Allies begin to advance, the reality of their relationship bites hard.
This is a very moving war-torn romance indeed from writer Navie, though Rose and Mark's tryst is just one of several stories woven into the hardship of daily existence under an oppressive regime. Thus whilst they may have the main billing there are other tragic heroes, certainly some quite despicable villains, plus one character whose morally ambiguous actions, whilst certainly well-intentioned, are catastrophic to say the least. There is also a particularly painful irony at play there too which makes it even more devastating...
This work concludes with two letters, one of which is actually a separate loose sheaf of folded paper, barely stuck down to the inside rear cover, which could very easily slip out and be lost... One letter may very well confirm your suspicions regarding a certain individual, the other, well, the other might just break your heart completely.
Told in retrospect in modern day, by an elder Rose to her lovestruck granddaughter Virginie, this haunting look back in time is beautifully and tenderly illustrated by Carole Maurel. Our leading duo simply cannot contain their love, evident from the expressions on their faces, even whilst apart, and wartime Paris still feels like a vibrant, buzzing city, albeit populated by people aware their every move is being watched and controlled. Still, our cast of characters do mostly try and keep their secrets, some much more successfully than others. Even so, life and love goes on. Until they don't.