Gracianna Arrayet was born in the Pyrennes, mountains that border France and Spain. Her mother was Ann, who died in childbirth when Gracianna was eight years old - her grandmother, Grand-mere - Anastasia. Her birth certificate read "Father Unknown". Gracianna has a little sister, Constance, and they share a bond of love born from the loss of their mother. She loved her native Basque, the language unrelated to any other European languages. Gracianna was ambitious and curious, being able to quote verses from poems and entire passages of history. Gracianna dreamed of moving to America. She longed to see California and the beautiful Santa Barbara. She developed a plan to go to Paris where she would work for a year to earn enough money for her travel to America. Her family tried to dissuade her from leaving because of the war in France, but Gracianna, even with fear welling up, was determined, and in the early 1940's, finally leaves for Paris with no plans to return. With Nazi headquarters in the backyard, she finds a job working in a bar cafe and sharpens her instincts for survival in occupied Paris. In time she is recruited into the French Resistance.
Juan Laxague was a rather shy local sheepherder and has known Gracianna and her family for years. He was taught the values of hardwork and belief in God early on. He thought a lot about the future with Gracianna and one night he decides to strike out on his own. And the story unfolds as Juan follows Gracianna to Paris where he begins his search for her, whom he believes will become his partner in life. Constance also follows Gracianna and arrives in Paris with great fanfare. Caught up in a whirlwind, the impetuous and immature Constance quickly marries a wealthy man for the easy life.
Parisians were disappearing, Jews were being rounded up, suspected sympathizers rooted out by the Gestapo. A series of events unfold and Constance is beaten and humiliated and sent to Birkenau, one of the satellite concentration camps of Auschwitz.
This is an emotional story about the Holocaust, World War II, Hitler, the Auschwitz - Birkenau death camp, and the French Freedom Resistance. Gracianna's sister miraculously did live through Birkenau, where it is estimated that between 700,000 and 1 million people were gassed, hanged, or shot. Rumors were that at night you could see lights blaze and flicker and hear horrific screams. The Nazis were performing evil, supposedly scientific tests on prisoners - men, women, and children - where death was probably preferable.
The topic of the Holocaust brings with it deep sadness and the horrible realization of what occurred at that time. This is a compelling tale of love, family, suspense and survival. A gripping novel that I highly recommend.
I received a complimentary copy from NetGalley for an honest review of this book. The opinions shared in this review are solely my responsibility.