It’s been many moons since I discovered a story that touched my senses and emotions and enveloped my mind utterly. Readers who shared my enthusiasm for The Bronze Horseman by Paulina Simmons recommended Wild Lavender, and I began reading with a sense of skepticism. Horseman was as close to perfection as a novel could get in my eyes, so how could any another book possibly live up to my inflated expectations?
Wild Lavender is initially set in 1920’s France and continues through the Second World War. As is common in lengthy family sagas, the plots are divided into “before the crisis” events and “during the crisis” events. The former is Simone Fleuriere’s (the daughter of lavender farmers in Provence) struggle to make something of herself and her life, to overcome the adversity of destitution and dependency on people with very small hearts. The latter revolves around her decisions and tribulations during the war in occupied France.
This book took my breath away. I inhaled the the lavender’s fresh aroma, experienced Parisians’ fear during the occupation, and empathized with Simone’s trials. She is a a fully fleshed out, multifaceted character who pulsates with life. She is heroic in the sense that she puts her life on the line for others, even for pets who are tossed heartlessly out on the street, and handles her own heartbreaks with quiet, if sad, dignity.
I love WW2-era dramas–perhaps, living through a time when I am not personally affected by or asked to sacrifice for the turmoils surrounding me (and enjoying a relatively peaceful existence in the midst of the insanity), I long for a time when all were united in a singular purpose against a black-and-white enemy. Just as Horseman brought alive this singularly united (and divided) WW2-era Leningrad, Lavender brings WW2-era Paris to life. It is not as mind-blowingly intense as Horseman, which may be a relief to those who don’t enjoy spending nights awake reliving the horrors of Leningrad, but enough passion and suffering is expended in this book to claim a spot in your mind for a long time after you have turned the final page. It is a lengthy novel–over 500 pages–perfect for cold winter evenings, and is what the Brits call a “thumping good read.” I hope, if you decide Wild Lavender is for you, that you enjoy it as much as I did.