The Room on Rue Amélie

Kristin Harmel

  • Review
By – July 18, 2018

In The Room on Rue Amélie, tal­ent­ed nov­el­ist Kristin Harmel trans­ports the read­er to Paris dur­ing the Nazis’ occu­pa­tion of the city. A sober­ing account of those who lived in fear and defi­ance dur­ing the Holo­caust, this book of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion is also a sur­pris­ing sto­ry of love, courage, and the resilien­cy of the human spirit.

Draw­ing on exten­sive research, Harmel cre­ates char­ac­ters that allow the read­er to expe­ri­ence the per­ils that were faced by those ded­i­cat­ed to the French Resis­tance — a group that was com­prised most­ly of the women and girls left behind to defend their beloved city. These women come alive in the rep­re­sen­ta­tive fig­ure of Ruby Hen­der­son Benoit — an exu­ber­ant new bride who leaves Cal­i­for­nia, the only world she has ever known, to fol­low her hus­band to Paris, in spite of her father’s warn­ings. Her gai­ety is quick­ly cut short sev­er­al months after her arrival when France finds itself at war with Ger­many. It isn’t long before her new hus­band, Mar­cel, becomes secre­tive, dis­ap­pear­ing for days at a time. What’s worse, he seems to believe Ruby is naïve and unso­phis­ti­cat­ed in her under­stand­ing of their cur­rent real­i­ty and the grav­i­ty of the threat Hitler poses.

But Ruby’s deter­mi­na­tion to con­tribute will not be bro­ken. She risks impris­on­ment and even death as she works in the under­ground effort to help Eng­lish pilots who have been shot down over France. She also takes on a tremen­dous risk in hid­ing Char­lotte, the spir­it­ed 10-year-old Jew­ish girl one flat over, after her par­ents are sent to a con­cen­tra­tion camp in Poland. The two become friends and co-con­spir­a­tors in the resistance.

The Room on Rue Amélie is, ulti­mate­ly, a love sto­ry. We see mul­ti­ple kinds of love: roman­tic, mater­nal, and even love for the stranger. The romance between Ruby and a pilot she lat­er meets is espe­cial­ly grip­ping. In ret­ro­spect, her ear­li­er rela­tion­ship with Mar­cel was a naïve one, based on a young girl’s expec­ta­tions of mar­riage. Her lat­er love with Thomas is dif­fer­ent — mature, pow­er­ful, and deep — he is her bash­ert.

Harmel man­ages to tell an engag­ing tale with­in the con­fines of her genre. A lot of the sto­ry­line may feel famil­iar to read­ers versed in Holo­caust fic­tion — and yet this author man­ages to draw her audi­ence in, even to the point of unex­pect­ed tears at the story’s end.

Karen Nefor­es is a health­care exec­u­tive who enjoys read­ing a range of lit­er­a­ture. She lives in Connecticut.

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