Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Book Review: What Remains of Love

By Sara Steven

At the reading of her beloved father’s will, Kate, a divorced French professor, learns of his affaire de coeur during World War II with a French artist named Emilie, to whom he has left a substantial bequest. Kate, stunned to discover the existence of this woman who captivated her father, is determined to unravel the mystery of his past and unearth the truth.

Though Emilie has passed away, her daughter Yvette sends a box of her mother’s keepsakes from the war that are even more unnerving – among them a dried flower, a photograph, two smooth stones, and a train ticket. With the help of a long-hidden memoir Kate begins to see the significance of these items that create the picture of a father she thought she knew.

Kate wonders about her parents’ marriage. After the war had he abandoned passion for honor? Did he really love her mother, or was he compelled to marry her out of his sense of duty? How well did she really know her father? Or her mother? When more secrets are revealed in the final pages of the memoir, she embarks on a journey to the south of France to reconcile the past and confront her own demons, as well as the legacy of her father’s wartime love affair and the price he paid to live an honorable life. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

I enjoyed going along with Kate on her journey into familial discovery. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to find so many secrets within my own family, and while Kate slowly learns the truth, it also triggers past events that only support her discoveries. The way the story is told really worked, because we find ourselves in the midst of the present, while Kate deals with the healing needed to find a way to get past her father’s death, and then after she finds Emilie’s memoir, we are catapulted back into the past with Emilie. It all unfolds in its own time in the most beautiful of ways.

Something I could really relate to had been Kate’s relationship with her mother. There had always been a lot of contention, so while Kate works on reconciling the way she had alway viewed her father, she’s also finding that she is reconciling the way she viewed her mother, too. Had her mother known about Emilie? And if she did know, what would that mean for the marriage Kate had witnessed growing up? 

I also enjoyed Emilie. My grandfather had fought in the war, so whenever I read something that takes the reader back to that era, I always imagine him there, too. I think we often forget what sort of turmoil and hardship had been faced back then, and Emilie doesn’t pull any punches, describing in detail the life she lived and what she had seen during those war-turbulent times. It isn’t any surprise that she not only found great comfort in the relationship she had with Kate’s father, but that Kate’s father had needed her during that time in his life for survival. It begs the question of what is right and what is wrong, and whether we can really view the world in such sharp degrees of black and white, or if we need to see it in a multitude of shades of gray. 

In the end, an unexpected revelation drives Kate to France in order to put the pieces together and decide how she wants to proceed, not only in the reconciliation within her own life, but in determining how she wants to live her life going forward. What Remains of Love really was a bittersweet story of love lost and found, the sacrifices we make, and ultimately, how even the smallest choices can create ripple effects into the present, future, and beyond. This is a definite five-star experience!

Thanks to Suzanne Trauth for the book in exchange for an honest review. She is also the author of the Dodie O'Dell mystery series.

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