Book Review – The Dressmaker’s Gift

Am discovering some really nice fiction authors – Rhys Bowen and now Fiona Valpy. This book was on the suggested list by Kindle Unlimited and it was a really good suggestion. I also seem to be picking up books that have two timelines woven into the plot. The Dressmaker’s Gift spans the present time and WWII.

The Dressmaker’s Gift – Summary

This book showcases war torn France and you get an outsider’s view about Parisian fashion from the 1940’s. A troubled, young lady Harriet whose mother commits suicide when she is a young girl, gets a job with a designer in Paris. She discovers some of her mother’s things and amongst them an old picture of her mother and two other young ladies.

Sometimes coincidences do happen and serendipity is real. The author stretches it a bit much when Harriet manages to live in the same room as her grandmother (whom she has never met) and her colleague happens to be the grand daughter of one of the women in the picture that she inherits.

It’s not just a parallel timeline story, it’s also about parallel lives and how history repeats itself.

In 1940, three seamstresses move into a small apartment above a dressmaker’s shop. Mireille, Vivienne and Claire, become close friends but each has a secret life that the others don’t know about. Claire (Harriet’s grandmother) enters into a dangerous relationship with a German officer. Mireille works with the resistance and manages to draw in Claire. Vivienne also is involved in the resistance but her involvement is revealed much later.

Harriet, Claire’s grand daughter narrates the story of Mireille, Vivienne and Claire. The author talks about inherited trauma … not sure if that’s scientifically proven but I have seen a video which talks of how Indians became prone to diabetes because of the famines caused by the colonial British. So it may very well be true that trauma gets transferred through generations.

If the three seamstresses faced WWII, Harriet and Simone (Mireille’s grand daughter) face the Charlie Hebdo shooting and the terrorist attack on concert-goers.

What fear does to one’s psyche is explained beautifully as a thought in Harriet’s mind –

“I see now that its one of the paradoxes of life that if we love it so much that we are frightened of losing it, it can make us live a half-life, too scared to get out there and live whole-heartedly because we have too much to lose.”

Excerpt from The Dressmaker’s Gift

For me, when Vivienne and Claire end up at the Dachau camp, the story became real … The furnace and the gas chambers… everything is as described in the book. Read – Germany Day 14 – The saddest day … and an amazing coincidence, the blogpost from Sept 14, 2018 when we visited the Dachau concentration camp.

Towards the end of the book, we realise that Harriet has been named after Vivienne whose real name was Harriet. Claire and Mireille survive WWII and marry the men they fell in love with during the war. Claire marries Monsieur Leroux who was really Larry and Vivienne’s brother while Mireille marries Phillipe.

Mireille also gives the dress made by Claire as a gift to Harriet. A great way to close the loop of friendship.

It sickens you to the core that human beings can behave so barbarically, but the barbarism doesn’t stop – it continues to this day ! As we read this blogpost, Hamas killed a 1000 innocent Israelis and is trying to become the victim :(. The tunnels under the Shifa hospital (Gaza) have revealed stockpiles of ammunition and rockets, all meant to be used against Israel. Hamas is a terrorist organisation, no amount of media stories will convince us otherwise.

This is very well written book. The research is accurate except for the inherited trauma bit.

Rating – 4/5

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