News of Our Loved Ones
News of Our Loved Ones tells the complicated story of the Delasalle family, four generations of hard-working people who hail from a Nazi-occupied village in Normandy. Since I absolutely adore novels that center around the Second World War, I was really excited to dive into this one. Unfortunately though, it ended up failing to meet any of my expectations, making is a book I cannot recommend to fellow fans of historical fiction.
Life isn’t easy for the Delasalles. German soldiers are around every corner, and countless Jewish people have been hauled away to concentration camps. When news of the Allied invasion reaches their ears, various members of this multi-generational family wrestle with what it really means to survive one of the darkest parts of history.
Sixteen-year-old Yvonne lives solely for the sight of a red-haired boy she’s never actually met, but who bicycles past her window each day. To Yvonne, he embodies every dream she’s had during the war, and he symbolizes the hope she struggles to hang onto for the future. Her family doesn’t understand her obsession with this unknown young man, but that doesn’t matter to Yvonne at all. Watching from her window, hoping to catch even the tiniest of glimpses of him sustains her the way nothing else is able to do.
Genevieve, Yvonne’s older sister, left home to audition for a spot in Paris’ famous Conservatory of Music. Through her music, she manages to escape the horrors of war. She still misses her family and worries about their survival, but music grants her a freedom she can’t imagine being without.
The story moves on from there, but it’s hard to describe what happens next. We see events from numerous points of view, and I struggled to keep the various family members straight. Events are not narrated in any kind of linear fashion, making it all but impossible for the reader to grasp the true chronology of the story arc. Some of our narrators are actually dead, and since I had no idea when certain things were supposed to have taken place, I was never completely sure if these people were supposed to be ghosts or if we had moved backward in time to before they were killed. Talk about an extremely frustrating reading experience!
It was virtually impossible for me to get to know any of the characters well. Part of this was due to the overwhelming number of people in the story, but an even bigger part has to do with the author’s style of writing. We’re given brief glimpses into specific parts of these peoples’ lives, but we’re provided almost nothing in the way of context to help us understand what’s going on. It’s almost as if each event is a snapshot with no caption to explain it. We aren’t privy to any of the minor details that make up the lives of these characters. We know very little about their inner motivations, their hopes, or their dreams, and as a consequence, I felt no real need to invest myself in their stories.
The writing itself is quite lovely in places, but it takes quite a bit more than artfully arranged prose to hold my attention. I need to be able to relate to and believe in the people I’m reading about, and that simply wasn’t possible here. The author imbues the novel with a wonderful sense of place, and it honestly felt like the village where the Delasalles make their home was the most fully-realized thing about this book.
In short, News of Our Loved Ones is yet another story with a ton of unrealized potential. I wanted so much to love it, and yet, when I finally reached the end, I felt like I’d slogged through a very perplexing tome rather than a relatively short novel, and I heaved a huge sigh of relief as I put the book aside and moved onto something more engaging.