This enchanting novel places the reader in France after the end of World War II. The French are overwhelmed by the work required to rebuild their country, and many are struggling to rebuild their lives, too.
One of these people is Asher, a Jewish man who lost his family in the war and became an assassin for the French Resistance. He suffers feelings of guilt over one of his assassinations for the Resistance and grieves the loss of his family. Wandering the countryside, he searches for work and tries to meet his basic needs. On the verge of starvation, he comes upon Château Guerin, a glass factory that has taken in several men like him. Asher earns his way in as a talented storyteller. Each of these men has his own secrets from the war, and the château gives them all a chance at redemption.
At the château, Asher feels he must hide not only his past as an assassin, but also his Jewishness. (There are some comic moments when Asher tries to pass himself off as a Catholic.) His growing talent for glassmaking helps him restore his sense of self. Over the course of the novel, he is supported by Mark, the head of the château; Brigitte, his wife; and Marie, the local vegetable farmer with whom he falls in love.
Stephen P. Kiernan is particularly good at making his characters unique. The men of the château are carefully drawn, each of them encountering his own sorrows and joys. There is Etienne, who becomes Asher’s tutor in glass production, and Henri, who cannot speak. There is also a nameless man with a heartbreaking secret. By the end of the book, all of their secrets are brought to light, which is satisfying for the reader.
Kiernan depicts the fascinating art of glassmaking, especially the process of making stained glass windows. His imagery, often involving metaphors of glass and light, absolutely glows. The result is a wonderful novel about memory, forgiveness, and the struggle to reclaim one’s identity.
Jill S. Beerman grew up in New Jersey and attended Montclair State University. She has a doctorate in American Studies from New York University. She taught high school and college for twenty-five years.