My Sunday Book Review is for Sharon Maas’s – The Violin Maker’s Daughter. This book takes us to Colmar, France 1940, when Germany is about to take over France during WWII. A hard to put down book as we follow the life of Sarah Mayer, a 17 year old girl, the eldest of five sisters who will be the first of them to be sent away from her home, arranged by her parents and the French Resistance with the ultimate journey and goal for Sarah to reach Switzerland or Spain.
When the Nazis march onto the cobbled streets of Colmar on November 1st 1940, Josef, a Jewish violin maker, gathers his wife and daughters closely to him and tells them everything will be alright.
But one year later, three sharp knocks on the door at midnight turn his seventeen year old daughter Sarah’s world upside down. As the oldest child, Sarah must be the first to leave her family, to make her escape in a perilous journey across France via Paris to Poitiers. And she must hide who she is and take a new name for her own safety. For now, bilingual Sarah is no longer a French Jew but a German girl.
As she bids farewell to her beloved father and family, Sarah has hope, against all odds, that she will see them again when the war is over. But, travelling through the mountains she finds herself in terrible danger and meets Ralf, a German deserter, who risks his own life to save her.
Ralf and Sarah continue their journey together, keeping their identities secret at all cost. But when Ralf is captured, will Sarah pay the ultimate price for sharing who she really is?
A gripping and heart-breaking account of love, bravery and sacrifice during the terror of war. A story of standing up for what you believe in; even if it’s going to break your heart. Perfect for fans of The Tattooist of Auschwitz and The Ragged Edge of Night.
My 5 Star Review:
Josef Mayer is the violin maker in Colmar, France. As Germany’s takeover of France nears, Josef makes arrangements with the French Resistance for his five daughters to be escorted to Switzerland. His eldest daughter Sarah will leave first, despite her own resistance for not wanting to leave her home and family, as the severity of what was to come to France couldn’t be realized. Sarah’s papers are all ready, stating she’s a German from Colmar, France with no yellow star stamped on the paper. Josef is an agnostic Jew and his wife Leah is a converted Jew, although the family are not practicing Jews, to the Nazis, they are still Jews. The children don’t understand why plans are being made for them all to eventually flee Colmar and quick plans are made with a nearby neighbor, Yves, to hook the family up with the resistance to get them all to safety – first Sarah, then her sisters to follow, and eventually her parents. That was the plan, but during war, plans can change in a moment’s notice.
Sarah is picked up in the middle of the night and taken to first stop – the winery where Rebecca who’s in charge of an old farmhouse, prepares the routes and missions with Eric to guide runaway Jews through the mountains from this underground safehouse pitstop along the way of Sarah’s journey. But when Rebecca falls and twists her ankle, early into the journey, the three must turn back as she cannot walk, and Eric and Sarah help to carry her back to the safehouse. New plans are made as Rebecca is housebound and will now await the next two sisters to come to the safehouse while she heals and Eric and Sarah set out again.
Eric and Sarah encounter two young German soldiers in the forest. One of them apparently relishes his job to kill Jews and the other, Raif Sommer, stood in mortification as he watched the struggle between Eric and the other soldier as Eric tried to protect Sarah and foil his attempt to rape Sarah, until Eric was shot in the leg. In this stunning commotion, Raif shoots and kills the other soldier and becomes a deserter and helps carry injured Eric with Sarah’s help, back to the safehouse once again. We soon learn, once Sarah and Eric and a German soldier return, that Raif was drafted in a war he wanted no part of as he was supposed to be studying in university to be a doctor. And now with Rebecca and Eric out of commission, the plans have changed. Raif is given civilian clothes from Rebecca’s son’s wardrobe and he will lead Sarah once again on the journey.
Before leaving, Rebecca has a chat with Raif, informing him how Sarah is young and naive and has no experience with relationships, warning him not to start any romance business. They set out for the journey to Metz, only Sarah will take a train and Raif will have to walk for three days because he has no papers. Those three days of traveling Sarah realizes she has feelings stirring for Raif who has been kind and chivalrous to her and has ultimately saved her and Eric’s life. Once they meet up again and have made it to the next farmer’s safehouse, they are to wait with the resistance members until Raif’s new papers are made for them to carry on together – only the safehouse is ambushed one night with mass murder going on upstairs. Once again, Sarah’s life is spared by Raif’s quick thinking, as they were sleeping in their respective rooms in the basement when the kerfuffle began and Raif grabs Sarah and squashes them both into a bathroom hole with a secret crawlspace as they await the Nazis to finish inspecting the basement and leave. Later Raif walks around outside to make sure the coast is clear and with the help of a neighbor who saw the whole invasion, they are directed to the next safehouse where they will then get on a train to Paris where they will connect to the next town, Poitiers.
The train ride is nerve-racking as gestapo go around checking for papers and Raif – now Karl, and Sarah sit separately as not to attract undue attention. Sarah’s weakness is learning to keep her mouth shut as she loves to talk and still doesn’t grasp the peril of her journey. Great tension as we follow Sarah on the multiple journeys, almost squirming with hope she doesn’t make any mistakes.
They stop at a cafe and watch Jews being berated and ultimately beaten by Nazis. Sarah wants to shout out at them and Raif shuts her up by kissing her, and so the romance begins. Although Sarah is confused after because Raif backs off. He is also attracted to Sarah, but tries to honor his promise to Rebecca, not to tangle up Sarah’s young heart when she is dealing with so much more.
When they finally arrive at the last safehouse in Poitiers, a town south of Paris, the two must be separated. Raif has joined the French Resistance, and Sarah who speaks fluent French and German is sent to apply for a job as a nanny who is to teach the four young children, German, and give them violin lessons at the Limoin residence where this upper class French family have become collaborators with the Nazis. Sarah rests comfortably there as she pines away for Raif/Karl awaiting message from him so they can meet up. In the meantime, Madam Limoin’s boisterous and socialite younger sister, Monique, befriends Sarah and gets a little too close for comfort, especially when Monique snoops and finds a letter Sarah stupidly, left on her bed. Sarah gets a message from her safehouse keeper, Regine, in Poitiers, and she’s told to get moving before she is discovered by the Limoins.
At that point, Sarah decides not to continue her journey to now Spain, but to also join the resistance. Her mission is to gather intelligence by traveling to Germany to visit various train stations to learn which towns in France the troops were being sent to next. Sarah also takes the opportunity to spread fake news to anyone she makes small talk with, in hopes they will spread her rumors that the allies have landed in some small towns in France and are killing the Germans. This mission offers great tension taking us all the way to the end of the book with a nice twist surprise ending I didn’t see coming.
This book was a fantastic read, well written, lots of suspense to keep the pages turning, a bit of romance, and, love, endurance, sadness and triumph. If you enjoy stories about courage and survival, espionage, mixed in with love, hatred and redemption during the perilous WWII era, you will love this book!