Set in 1930s and ‘40s in France and Poland, Amandine is Marlena de Blasi’s first work of fiction. The title character is a girl without a history. Or, at least, a history she knows. When she was just five months old, a mysterious woman deposited her in a French convent with Solange, a lay sister. Mater Paul, the head nun there, was given directions never to tell anyone claiming to be from the child’s past anything about the child, or to tell the child anything about her past or heritage, even what little that she knew. When the mysterious woman left her at the convent, the child didn’t even have a name.
Solange names the child Amandine. Although Amandine has a defective heart and is not expected to live very long, she survives, and Solange virtually never leaves her side. They live in the convent in France until Amandine is almost ten. Mater Paul has been barely hospitable during this time and, after one of the other nuns starves Amandine almost to death in a misguided attempt to protect Mater Paul, Solange and her young charge decide to leave the convent and travel to Solange’s mother’s farm in northern France. Just before they board the first train, they find out France has offered a complete surrender to Nazi Germany. Amandine spends the rest of the novel trying to reach Solange’s family.
In the meantime, Amandine’s mother finds out that her daughter, who she thought had died as an infant, is still alive. The major subplot of the story, then, is her search for her daughter amidst the chaos that was ensuing in Europe during World War II.
In reading Amandine, I found a few things distracting. First, it’s written in present tense, which is extremely difficult to write well. In this case, unfortunately, it’s more irritating than anything else.
Second, it is mostly in third person, but switches to first person perspective inexplicably two-thirds of the way into the story and switches back to third person less than thirty pages later. When I got to that part, I had to go back to make sure the perspective really had changed, and this took me out of the narrative.
Third, entire sections of many of the chapters are a single character's thoughts. While I don’t mind reading a main character’s internal dialog every now and then, especially when the character is the one narrating the story, reading pages upon pages of italics (which indicate thoughts) is a huge turn off for me. Not only that, the various thoughts are not just from one character but many characters, which makes it more difficult to keep straight without rereading earlier chapters.
Honestly, this was an okay novel; it wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible, either. After I got past the three major detractors, Amandine kept my attention well. There’s just enough background on the war to ground the novel, but not so much that the reader is overwhelmed, with only one exception: at one point—a few SS soldiers kill one of the major characters, though there’s barely any foreshadowing to speak of. On one page, the character is alive, and on the next, dead. This speaks to the seriousness of war even for people who have not been directly affected by it.