All That We Have Lost
Grade : C+

Suzanne Fortin’s All That We Have Lost is an interesting but flawed story of how a widow, trying to rebuild her life, discovers a secret about a girl who lived during the Nazi occupation of France. I liked the premise a great deal, but have some caveats about the execution.

Let’s start with the good. In the here-and-now, widowed Englishwoman Imogen Wren overhears her coworkers calling her “The Android” because she doesn’t socialize with them. She realizes that since her husband’s sudden death four years earlier, she hasn’t really been living either, so she decides to do something she and James had talked about - go to France. Except, to make a clean break with the past, she’s going to live there. So she buys an abandoned chateau which was badly damaged after it was commandeered by the Wehrmacht. But she quickly discovers that the locals believe the place brings bad luck, and only one man - a handsome, charming outsider called Laurent - is willing to do the renovations.

Back in 1944, Simone Varon longs to be able to do something, no matter how small, to oppose the Germans who hold her village in an iron grip. She soon gets more than she bargained for. An accomplished flautist, she’s ordered to play for the Germans at the chateau, and a member of the Resistance tells her to use that opportunity to steal documents. And as if the danger wasn’t enough, Simone falls for one of the German officers, so the other villagers soon believe she’s a collaborator.

Imogen’s chapters alternate with Simone’s as their paths began to converge, so there’s plenty of plot to keep the story going. And although it starts sedately, the mystery of what happened in the chateau soon kicks the tension into gear. I also liked the fact that Imogen’s late husband is never compared unfavorably to her current love interest, and the grieving process is very well depicted.

Imogen’s biggest problem, though, is that she’s naïve. I couldn’t believe anyone would go to a foreign country, quickly buy a huge chunk of property and a part of that region’s history, and then imagine how the locals in the nearby village will be her new friends. (Not to mention how difficult it has become to buy property in and move from the UK to an EU country since Brexit! - Ed.) She’s equally trusting of Laurent, until she overhears another conversation where he admits to a hidden motive for wanting access to the chateau, something I’d suspected several chapters before.

But Simone’s romance is even less plausible. Two stock characters in this sort of fiction, the Good German and the Bad German, both take notice of her. The Bad German is a vicious brute who looks for any opportunity to rape Simone, while the Good German is brave, handsome, kind, polite, and doesn’t want to be at war with anyone. He also comes up with life advice like, “You mustn’t let the hate eat away at the good person inside you”, and Simone thinks how profound this is. Soon she’s in love and the two of them are slipping away for trysts in the woods. There have been times I’ve wondered about historical romance heroines who have sex with no concerns about pregnancy, but romping with a German officer in occupied France is taking recklessness to a whole new level.

(Oh, and there’s also a moment when the Bad German unzips his trousers. I’m not sure whether zippers were standard for uniforms in the Wehrmacht, but I do remember that in Stephen King’s Apt Pupil, the old Nazi officer thinks that a replica uniform doesn’t perfectly mimic the one he used to wear, because the fly is a zip, and it should have been buttons. But if anyone can clarify one way or another, I’d appreciate that!)

Finally, if people hate you for something they believe you’ve done, but there is evidence that could clear your name, would you search for the evidence or would you leave that job to your descendants? Yes, Imogen can uncover a huge secret about the past this way, but if the characters are forced to behave implausibly so the plot can happen, that’s a problem for me.

Ultimately, All That We Have Lost was a quick read and the dual timelines are handled deftly. But a lot of World War II novels have much better characters and relationships, and the next time I’m in the mood for this period in history, I’ll try one of those instead.

Reviewed by Marian Perera
Grade : C+

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : February 15, 2023

Publication Date: 10/2021

Recent Comments …

  1. What kept me reading was the sheer unpredictability of the storyline. I knew David’s and Chelsea’s paths would cross again…

Marian Perera

I'm Marian, originally from Sri Lanka but grew up in the United Arab Emirates, studied in Georgia and Texas, ended up in Toronto. When I'm not at my job as a medical laboratory technologist, I read, write, do calligraphy, and grow vegetables in the back yard.
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