I grabbed the ARC of Michele Claire Lucas’s A High and Hidden Place years ago, when I was childless and working full-time at Borders (may it rest in peace). Honestly, I often avoid fiction about Europe during WWII–there are so many excellent non-fiction options out there–but this book was inspired by true events, and the premise was intriguing enough to hook me. It’s been sitting with my other free Borders books ever since, waiting to be chosen; I finally pulled it out a couple of weeks ago, and now I can’t help thinking–Why did I wait this long?
A High and Hidden Place has a haunting quality reminiscent of Kate Mosse’s The Winter Ghosts, possibly because both books tell the story of a doomed community in France. Where Mosse weaves together the recent and ancient pasts, however, Lucas gives us the story of a young woman’s past as she discovers it. Christine Lenoir was raised in a French orphanage and has believed all her life that her parents died of influenza when she was small. In 1963, however, as a journalist temporarily assigned to her magazine’s American office, she watches the footage of JFK’s assassination and the subsequent shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald and is disturbed by her reaction. How did she know–immediately–that the popping sounds she heard were gunshots? Why is she suddenly troubled by bits and pieces of unfamiliar memories? She returns to the convent to delve into her past; it is there that she remembers being, once upon a time, Christine of Oradour.
The remnants of the village of Oradour-sur-Glane stand as a testament to the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis; when Christine visits and learns the truth of her past, her faith is shaken and her worldview is altered forever. What held me spellbound, however, is the fact that the past with which she must come to terms is a too-often-forgotten piece of the history of Europe during World War II. While Christine herself is fictional, Oradour-sur-Glane is very real indeed.
To be fair, reading on an airplane is often a slightly otherworldly experience, but I would have been enthralled by A High and Hidden Place regardless. It’s not a perfect novel, but the entire story is compelling–the true story of Oradour; Christine’s discovery of her past; her friend Sophie, a Jew who lost most of her family to the camps but retains an impressive perspective on truth and God. I especially appreciate Lucas’s reminder that World War II was a multi-faceted tragedy; the Holocaust is an essential part of its history, but it isn’t the only part. Lucas’s description of the fate of the village is difficult to read, especially as a mother of four–indeed, if it weren’t for the dreamlike quality of her writing, I might have found it prohibitively difficult–but so are survivor accounts of the concentration camps. Such is history.
Ultimately, I wish I’d read this book when I was still a bookseller; I would have told my customers about this one. That was then, however, and this is now–and so, instead, I’m telling you.