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Shelf Awareness: "Zackheim's honest and melancholy story about the brutal psychological and physical toll of war leaves a lingering sense of regret and loss."

Date: Dec 12 2013

In Michele Zackheim's The Last Train to Paris, an oddly personal and touching novel of a half-Jewish woman learning to be herself in a world gone mad with hate, an 87-year-old woman tending her garden in upstate New York decides to go through her newsroom notes from the 1930s, when she was a foreign correspondent in Europe.

R.B. Manon (Rosie to her friends) writes a weekly column for the New York Courier until she gets a chance to cover the insanity gripping Paris and Berlin. Rosie is the only woman in the Paris newsroom, and though she was raised by a mother who was determined to deny her Jewish heritage, that heritage leaves her vulnerable. Her situation is further complicated by her mother's unexpected arrival and by her inadvertent discovery of the secrets of the one man she has ever loved, a Jewish engraver controlled by the Nazis.

Based on a true-life abduction in 1937, the action centers on the kidnapping of Rosie's glamorous, successful cousin Stella, a budding Jewish actress who disappears in Paris after dating an exceptionally handsome German who speaks perfect English.

Unfolding in a France where Jews live in fear, in a Berlin where laws no longer apply, in cafés and bars frequented by reporters and displaced internationals dodging police raids, The Last Train to Paris is a densely populated short novel with dozens of colorful characters crowded into its pages--a vicious managing editor, an alcoholic, suicidal fellow reporter, an exiled Chinese poet, a distressed elderly aunt, a black American saxophonist and even the famous French author Colette.

Although the novel is certainly about the madness engulfing Europe at the outbreak of the war, more and more it becomes the story of a mother and daughter uncomfortably like each other, thrust together by a sensational murder trial, given a last chance to connect. In the confusion as the last train for Paris pulls out of Berlin, Rosie will be forced to choose between her mother and her lover. Zackheim's honest and melancholy story about the brutal psychological and physical toll of war leaves a lingering sense of regret and loss.
-Nick DiMartino