Review: While Paris Slept, Ruth Druart

In 1944 young Jewish mother is forced onto a train bound to Auschwitz when in a moment of desperation she hands over her most valuable possession to a stranger, a decision she’ll live with for the rest of her life. 

In 1953 Jean Luc is living in America with his wife Charlotte and young son, having managed to flee war-time France. They think they’ve left the past behind them, but a knock at the door one morning changes everything. 

The debut novel from Ruth Druart is a remarkable story of two families whose lives become intertwined in Occupied Paris during the Second World War. With a dual narrative, While Paris Slept seamlessly switches back and forth between time periods without causing confusion amongst readers. 

Druart combines history and fiction to great effect, combining the awful reality of war with a story about love and sacrifice. The scenes set in Auschwitz are of course a difficult read given the horrors that occurred at the concentration camp, but Druart ensures that things don’t get too dark and deals with tough topics sensitively and respectfully. 

The pacing throughout is spot on, with an action-packed first half and then a slower second half as the heartbreaking story begins to unravel. Despite a somewhat abrupt and predictable ending, not to mention an extreme legal decision, While Paris Slept is an emotional and engaging read which really tugs at the heart strings. The twist, when it comes, is particularly clever, although  and certainly makes you think about what you would do if you were in the same situation. 

Ruth Druart has created characters who have endured a lot and are all haunted by their past decisions. They are all endearing and likeable, and you find yourselves rooting for them all. With Sarah and David only speaking French Druart copes with language barriers well, and whenever French is used she ensures an English translation is woven into the text to hold the reader’s attention. 

While Paris Slept is a moving and powerful story well worth a place on anyone’s book shelf. Just make sure you have some tissues to hand when you read it. This is a strong and compelling debut from Ruth Druart, and I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us in the future. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

While Paris Slept is available on kindle now, with the hardback out on 4 March.

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