23 Feb The Dressmaker of Paris by Georgia Kaufmann
Recollections of a life lived richly
In a small village high in the Italian Alps, 15-year-old Rosa works in her parents’ tavern, serving the locals and dreaming of better things. With a careworn, seemingly uncaring mother and an alcoholic father, life is hard for Rosa and her sister, but they struggle on.
Then a small group of Nazi soldiers arrives. Rosa catches the eye of the leader and not even kind caring Thomas, his deputy, can save her from his attentions.
Brutally raped, Rosa falls pregnant, and flees to Switzerland, leaving behind her old life and her new love ,Thomas.
She finds refuge and friendship in her new home, but still ambition burns bright and after the war she moves on again, this time leaving behind something more infinitely precious.
Determined to fulfil her dream of opening a dress shop, Rosa works her way up from apprentice to designer’s Muse to couturier status, in a journey that takes her from Paris to Brazil to New York.
But she can never forget the family and friends she left behind in Italy and Switzerland – will she ever be reunited with them?
I really liked the way this narrative was written. Georgia Kaufmann uses the medium of a woman’s personal toiletries to allow Rosa to recall her life’s ups and downs as she addresses an unseen listener. And so cotton wool reminds her of her decision to keep her baby, nail varnish prompts memories of how she helped her Brazilian maid in her own fight to free herself from an abusive man, a syringe recalls the fate of a musician she fell in love with … every single item leads to a recollection of a life richly lived.
There are so many sorrows and joys along the way to Rosa’s acceptance of who she is and who she once was, that this story was impossible to put down. There’s no one huge arch of suspense – apart from wondering who her unseen, unknown listener is – but each chapter builds a story that is strong and emotional and celebrates the power of a person to transcend tragedy, not just once but several times.
Love and loss, friendship and family, passion and power – all are richly described in a story that flows seamlessly through the years.
Rosa is a superb narrator, honest with the reader and herself, unflinching in describing the choices and sacrifices she made along her chosen path. Now in her 60s, with lasting happiness finally within her grasp, you can’t help but cheer on her indomitable spirit.
The Dressmaker of Paris is published by Hodder & Stoughton in HB, RRP £18.99
About the Author