YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS
Last Train to Paris by Michele Zackheim
Michele Zackheim’s books, like treasure hunts, send their narrators scuttling after hidden gems. In “Violette’s Embrace,” an artist travels to Paris to unearth secrets about the writer Violette Leduc. In “Einstein’s Daughter,” Zackheim herself goes abroad to investigate the mysterious fate of the scientist’s illegitimate daughter. And in her new novel, “Last Train to Paris,” an elderly New York journalist named Rose digs through an old trunk of papers that holds reminders of her past life and lost love.
“Last Train to Paris” transports Rose across oceans and eras, back to the sexist, swaggering newsrooms of 1930s New York and Paris, where she worked as a young reporter. The novel pits love against war, and in chronicling Hitler’s rise to power it finds echoes of warfare at the personal and social levels. Rose battles her mother, who has trailed her from America to Europe, even as Germany moves against its neighbors. Meanwhile, lawyers do combat in the French courts: A German national has murdered Rose’s cousin, a Jew, in Paris, and Rose is helping cover the trial. This murder cleverly prefigures Hitler’s invasion of France, which follows within months. (Zackheim based this element of the book on the 1937 abduction of her own distant cousin.)
Zackheim presents startlingly vivid images of life in Hitler’s Europe. She indicates the haunting disparity between two types of passengers boarding a ship in Le Havre: holidaying Americans who dance up the gangplank, bearing gifts; and Jewish refugees fearfully leaving their homes forever. Describing Kristallnacht in Berlin, she writes: “Because there was no wind, clouds of smoke were perched on top of each burning building. In between the buildings . . . we could see the stars.” Excerpt
Causes Michele Zackheim Supports
PEN American Center