Melanie Dobson first came to my attention through Carrie. If you read Carrie much at all, you know that she does not like Christian fiction, yet she likes Melanie. Since I do like Christian fiction, I figured I would probably enjoy Melanie all the more. So when I saw her Chateau of Secrets come through on a Kindle sale last year, I snapped it up.
And indeed, I enjoyed it very much. Normally I read Kindle books on my iPad mini as I am getting ready to fall asleep and then when I have any waiting time away from home. But this one had me pulling my phone out several times during the day to read a few more paragraphs.
Gisèle Duchant lives with her father in their ancient chateau on Normandy before the onset of WWII. As Hitler’s forces come ever closer, they decide to leave. But Gisèle’s father is killed, and she then decides to stay. Her brother, Michel, is a leader in the underground resistance, and she has been helping him by secretly bringing food and supplies where he is hiding in the tunnels beneath their property.
Eventually the Nazis come to their area and take over the chateau for their local headquarters. They commandeer Gisèle to cook and keep house for them, so she’s walking a tightrope between doing what is required of her there yet still helping her brother and trying to keep the tunnels a secret.
The chapters alternate between her story in the 1940s and her granddaughter Chloe’s story in modern times. Chloe is a teacher engaged to Virginia gubernatorial candidate Austin Vale. Being the fiancee of a high-profile politician has its drawbacks, but their times alone convinces her that it’s worth it. Just a few weeks before her wedding, her parents ask her to go to France. A filmmaker is doing a documentary on the chateau and its role in the war, and Chloe seems to be the best person to go and be interviewed by him. Chloe doesn’t know much about the chateau, and her grandmother Gisèle’s dementia confuses or hides much of her memory, so she’s not able to give her much information. But when she tells her grandmother that she’s going to the chateau in Normandy, Gisèle urgently insists that she must find Adeline. Chloe has never heard of Adeline before. As she travels to France, stays in the chateau, and delves into her grandmother’s history, she uncovers a multitude of secrets, some of which will have an impact on her family now.
I enjoyed both Gisèle’s and Chloe’s story lines. I liked the way the author wove in much detail about France in that era without making it too heavy or encyclopedic. I had not known that Jews served in the German Wehrmacht. Some probably did so to hide their Jewishness, but some did so out of coercion to protect loved ones. I loved the mystery of the story and thought the author did an expert job at unfolding it.
The story is loosely based on the life of Genevieve Marie Josephe de Saint Pern Menke. She lived in a chateau in France during WWII which was taken over by the Germans, and “risked her life to hide downed Allied airmen and members of the French resistance in this tunnel underneath the chateau,” among many other things.
Gisèle is Catholic, and, not being Catholic myself, there were a few points here and there that I would disagree with, namely praying to Mary, St. Michel, and ever her dead mother (that’s not the biggest problem I have with Catholicism, but it’s the biggest one in this book, because nowhere in Scripture are we instructed or encouraged to pray to anyone but God Himself. Jesus said, “When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven….” After all He did to create access for us to God, why would we try to go to Him through anyone else?) I don’t share what I disagree with in books just to be critical or contentious, but sometimes people tell me they read things I recommend, so I want to be careful that I don’t promote error. I would assume that Gisèle’s Catholicism is accurate to the time, place, and person her character is based on. And I did find much good spiritual truth in the book otherwise.
Overall I loved the book and will keep my eyes peeled for more of Melanie’s books in the future.
(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)