Review of Where Irises Never Grow from a reader in France

jeanniell5,0 sur 5 étoiles *****Fighting for survival in Vichy France Commenté en France le 12 décembre 2020Achat vérifié With her latest novel Paulette Mahurin has once again created a gripping fictionalised story based on serious historical research. It’s a story which starts with a real book -Aesop’s Fables – symbolising some of the moral principles which underpin western democracy. Later we will meet a real character, a man representing an ideology which is the antithesis of democracy- that of totalitarianism, in which books like Aesop’s Fables are banned. The man’s name, Klaus Barbie, still sends a chill into the souls of those who remember the years of the Nazi occupation in France or are familiar with its history: a member of the SS he was responsible for the arrest, torture, murder and deportation of thousands of Jews and resistance fighters. Through this contrast Mahurin leads us into the heart of the matter, showing how, less than one hundred years ago, a civilisation could tip from democracy to totalitarianism in a way that seems almost unbelievable today.
Prompted by an intriguing mystery – the discovery of a paper with a swastika, a date and two names on it, hidden in the spine of an old copy of the fables written in French- graduate student Monica Chastain sets out on a quest to find out more. Her research takes us back to the early 1940s and the city of Lyons where the intriguing mystery turns into a horror story. Through painstaking detail and sympathetic characterisation Mahurin builds up a bleak picture of life in Vichy France: the freezing cold, lack of food, money, work, and above all the mounting sense of foreboding, of dread, the impression of a trap closing in on the inhabitants. Jews, communists, resistance fighters and ordinary citizens must fight for survival in an atmosphere of fear and mistrust. Spies, collaborators, suspicious eyes are everywhere, and the dangers of exposure and betrayal become acute with the arrival of Barbie, henchman of Eichmann, architect of the final solution which led to the murder of 6 million Jews.
Against this dark background the personal drama of the Legrand family plays out: Victor and Charlotte are hiding a 17-year-old Jew, Agnès Eisenberg, who discovers she is pregnant to her lover Jacques, on the run from the authorities. As the pregnancy advances, the three of them struggle to cope with the enormous strain of keeping up such a deception while reports come in of the atrocities carried out by the new head of the Gestapo, a sadist who enjoys taking part in the tortures inflicted on his prisoners. Such scenes, chillingly recounted by the author, do not make easy reading. But, as she points out in the Afternote, they are based on true accounts from survivors. (One witness at Barbie’s trial in 1987 was Charlotte Lagrange who, aged only thirteen, suffered a 9-day ordeal at the hands of the unrepentant Butcher of Lyons.)
But as well as physical intimidation, Barbie also wielded the classic psychological weapon of mind control used by totalitarian regimes, encouraging people to denounce their neighbours either through fear of becoming victims themselves or because, over time, they succumb to the relentless anti-Semitic propaganda depicting Jews as less than human – vermin, pigs and cockroaches. As the novel nears its climax, the Legrands are tormented by thoughts of the future. What will happen when the baby is born? How can they get Agnes to safety? Will they, after years of existing on a knife’s edge, manage to escape from the nightmare without being betrayed?
We’ve recently seen some alarming trends in modern society – the rise of social media mobs threatening those do not conform to ideological hegemony, the censorship of books, the emergence of self-appointed moral guardians preaching a dangerous puritanism about the way we think and behave. The powerful message of Paulette Mahurin’s book could not be more timely, urging us to ‘never forget’, to remember what history has taught us, and to take a stand against what Montaigne called ‘man’s instinct to inhumanity.’

About The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap

The year 1895 was filled with memorable historical events: the Dreyfus Affair divided France; Booker T. Washington gave his Atlanta address; Richard Olney, United States Secretary of State, expanded the effects of the Monroe Doctrine in settling a boundary dispute between the United Kingdom and Venezuela; and Oscar Wilde was tried and convicted for "gross indecency" under Britian's recently passed law that made sex between males a criminal offense. When the news of Wilde's conviction went out over telegraphs worldwide, it threw a small Nevada town into chaos. This is the story of what happened when the lives of its citizens were impacted by the news of Oscar Wildes' imprisonment. It is chronicle of hatred and prejudice with all its unintended and devastating consequences, and how love and friendship bring strength and healing. Paulette Mahurin, the author, is a Nurse Practitioner who lives in Ojai, California with her husband Terry and their two dogs--- Max and Bella. She practices women's health in a rural clinic and writes in her spare time. All profits from her book are going to animal rescue, Santa Paula Animal Shelter, the first and only no-kill shelter in Ventura County, CA, where she lives. (see links below on Ventura County Star Article & Shelter) To find out more please go the The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap on facebook or Amazon or e-mail us at the gavatar addresses. Thank you. (photos: of Paulette, her family, and a reading at The Ojai Art Center, July 2012)
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22 Responses to Review of Where Irises Never Grow from a reader in France

  1. tazzielove says:

    That’s a great review.

  2. Jean-Jacques says:

    Hey, Paulette, what a fantastic tribute… Bravo!

    Jean-Jacques

    >

  3. ❤ *truthfully I only skimmed the review because I am only about 1/3 in and didn't want to see any spoilers! 😉

  4. Another great review! Well done.

  5. tidalscribe says:

    An excellent review of a complex novel that must have been very challenging to write. A time that will soon be only memories.

    • Thank you so much, tidalscribe. It was a hard story to write but then I take on these very difficult themes that come to me and haunt me until I write about them. It was stressful doing the research into Barbie’s evil ways from some of his victims. It’s hard to put myself in the place of those who lived it and it is here where my own coping protects me. The emotions come and go and the people linger in my heart but my attention seems to unstick pretty readily, thank goodness. I appreciate your stopping by and this conversation with you. Hope your 2021 is healthy and happy. ❤

  6. cheriewhite says:

    Such a great review! I’m ordering this book and can’t wait until it arrives! It’s hard to believe that some of what happened then is happening again today! People really need to learn their history, or the atrocities that happened then will happen again in the future.

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