I’m pleased to be welcoming Juliet Greenwood to Novel Kicks and the blog tour for her novel, The Last Train from Paris.
For Iris, each visit to her mother in St Mabon’s Cove, Cornwall has been the same – a serene escape from the city. But today, as she breathes in the salt air on the doorstep of her beloved childhood home, a heavy weight of anticipation settles over her. Iris knows she’s adopted, but any questions about where she came from have always been shut down by her parents, who can’t bear to revisit the past.
Now, Iris can’t stop thinking about what she’s read on the official paperwork: BABY GIRL, FRANCE, 1939 – the year war was declared with Nazi Germany.
When Iris confronts her mother, she hits the same wall of pain and resistance as whenever she mentions the war. That is, until her mother tearfully hands her an old tin of letters, tucked neatly beside a delicate piece of ivory wool.
Retreating to the loft, Iris steels herself to at last learn the truth, however painful it might be. But, as she peels back each layer of history before her, a sensation of dread grows inside her. The past is calling, and its secrets are more intricate and tangled than Iris could ever have imagined.
The year is 1939, and in Paris, France a young woman is about to commit a terrible betrayal…
A beautifully written and addictively compelling historical novel about the terrible choices ordinary people were forced to make in the horrors of World War Two. If you loved The Tattooist of Auschwitz, The Alice Network and The Nightingale, you will devour this book.
Juliet has shared an extract from the novel with us today. We hope you enjoy!
*****beginning of extract*****
This is from fairly near the beginning of the novel. In France, Sabine has sent one of her twin girls to London with her friend Nora, in a desperate bid to save the baby’s life. Now with her remaining twin, Sabine has refused to go into the heart of Nazi Germany with her ambitious husband Emil, only to find herself having to suddenly flee her ancient family home just outside Paris with her mother and grandmother (Mémé) as the invading German army advances towards them…
Sabine, France, 1940
How do you pack a life in a few minutes? How do you pack for survival, for as long as you might need it? Sabine’s brain froze at the enormity of the task. She could see from the pallor of her mother’s face that she felt the same.
First things first.
‘We need papers,’ she said. ‘All our papers. Then any money, and anything valuable we can sell if we need to.’
‘Yes, of course.’
With her mother sorting through her belongings, Sabine collected everything she could for herself and Valérie, focusing on being practical. She packed her daughter’s clothes, along with blankets and coats, taking them downstairs while Valérie watched her from the safety of her high chair with solemn eyes, too absorbed in the strange goings-on to protest.
‘We’re going on an adventure,’ Sabine told her cheerfully, placing Poupée, the battered rag doll Valérie always clutched tightly for reassurance, in her daughter’s arms. ‘With the horses. You like the horses, don’t you?’ Valérie nodded. ‘And Poupée is coming with us.’
She took her suitcase and her mother’s down to the hallway, keeping Valérie busy with a piece of bread while she and Maman sorted out as much food as they could carry.
‘We need things that won’t perish and don’t need much cooking,’ said Maman, her voice steady now she was dealing with practicalities. ‘Bread, fruit, cheese and that small ham.’ She sighed. ‘All our stores, everything to get us through the winter, the crops in the fields, and the animals. All that work, for nothing.’
‘You never know, the Germans might not get this far; we might be back before too long,’ said Sabine, kissing her.
‘They’ll take everything,’ said Maman bleakly.
‘Don’t think about it,’ said Mémé, clattering down the staircase with her suitcase and an armful of fur coats. ‘Just think of the practicalities. I should have thrown these out long ago, some are my mother’s, the ones she took with her the last time we had to run. They might be moth-eaten and old fashioned, but I’m not leaving them for some Boche officer to take for his mistress to strut about in. They’ll still keep us warm.’
After a hasty last cup of coffee – none of them had the stomach to eat any of the hard-won provisions they were about to abandon – Mémé hitched up the horses to the cart. Maman climbed up at the front next to Mémé, while Sabine placed Valérie amongst the hay bales and suitcases, made her as comfortable as possible with quilts and fur coats and clambered in next to her.
As the cart rumbled down the driveway, sunlight crept through the vines and the apple orchard, the scenes of Sabine’s childhood. At the entrance they paused and looked back, one last time, at the house, its blue shutters closed up, the peaceful fields green and golden in the summer haze.
‘Heaven knows what state this’ll be in if we ever return,’ said her mother. ‘Last time we came back to find nothing left. They’d taken the very portraits off the walls. Everything of value had gone. Even the timbers had been broken up for firewood. We started again from nothing and built all this.’
‘But at least we survived, Joelle,’ said Mémé. ‘And we will survive again.’
Sabine adjusted Valérie in her arms. It felt so final. Fear surged through her. Despite her struggles in her first years in Paris, before she met Emil, she’d never been homeless, not knowing where she was going to sleep that night or where her next meal might come from. She’d always worked hard to at least earn enough money for bread; she’d always had friends to offer her a bed if she couldn’t pay the rent. And there’d always been the chateau, the place of last resort. Even if she had to swallow her pride, she’d always known it was there, something she’d never be without. And in those days there was no child to think about.
The sight of enemy planes heading towards the capital had finally made up any wavering minds. Many other families were also leaving, some in battered cars and motorised vans, others in carts much like their own, bedding and belongings piled high between small children. Others pushed perambulators or hand‐carts, the young and the old clutching whatever they could.
As they passed the train station, they found it crowded with desperate women and children jostling to board any train that might take them south towards the Spanish border. With so many of the men staying behind to continue essential work and protect the towns and villages from looting, Sabine tried to shut out the desperate goodbyes of families torn apart, knowing they might never see each other again. The sense of unease that had lurked just beneath the surface all those months since the declaration of war had finally erupted into fear. This was real.
She held Valérie tight. Her little daughter’s life had only just begun. She dreaded to think what might happen to her…
*****end of extract*****
About Juliet Greenwood –
Juliet Greenwood is a historical novelist, now published by Storm Publishing.
Her first novel was a finalist for The People’s Book Prize and two of her books reached the top 5 in the UK Kindle store.
Juliet has always been a bookworm and a storyteller, writing her first novel (a sweeping historical epic) at the age of ten. She lives in a traditional cottage in Snowdonia, North Wales, set between the mountains and the sea, with an overgrown garden (good for insects!) and a surprisingly successful grapevine.