Publisher: Headline Review
Format: Ebook, Audio (24 June 2021) | Paperback (17 March 2022)
Source: Copy reviewed via Netgalley
ABOUT THE BOOK
Inspired by real acts of bravery and resistance, The Schoolteacher of Saint Michel is a heartrending and deeply moving story of one woman’s courage and sacrifice during World War II, from the USA Today bestselling author of The Missing Piece of Nancy Moon.
This exquisitely beautiful novel is perfect for readers of The Rose Code by Kate Quinn, The Postmistress, Lilac Girls and The Girl from Vichy.
‘My darling girl, I need you to find someone for me . . .’
France, 1942. At the end of the day, the schoolteacher releases her pupils. She checks they have their identity passes, and warns them not to stop until the German guards have let them through the barrier that separates occupied France from Free France. As the little ones fly across the border and into their mothers’ arms, she breathes a sigh of relief. No one is safe now. Not even the children.
Berkshire, present day. A letter left to her by her beloved late grandmother Gigi takes Hannah Stone on a journey deep into the heart of the Dordogne landscape. As she begins to unravel a forgotten history of wartime bravery and sacrifice, she discovers the heartrending secret that binds her grandmother to a village schoolteacher, the remarkable Lucie Laval . . .
I loved Sarah Steele’s debut novel, The Missing Pieces of Nancy Moon, reviewed here and when I saw that she had a new book, set during the period of WW2, this was going to be a must read.
The Schoolteacher of Saint-Michel, is a dual time novel, set during occupied France in 1942 and the present day, where schoolteacher Hannah has had a tumultuous time after a long term breakup whilst looking after her newly widowed father who is in ill health. The discovery of a letter from her adored late grandmother Gigi and a change of circumstances allows Hannah to go to France to try and fulfil Gigi’s wishes and the story goes back and forth in time as gradually Hannah tries to piece together events from over 70 years before as to what happened in the village of Saint Michel during the German occupation and in particular, the story of schoolteacher, Lucie Laval.
Lucie Laval was one of a number of people working against the Germans in the Dordogne which had been split by the demarcation line separating Free France from occupied France. Surrounded by collaborators and not knowing who they could trust amongst neighbours, her contribution was vital and it is thanks to the courage and bravery of Lucie and her companions that many young lives were saved. Without giving away any plot detail, the historical aspect was without a doubt the favourite part for me and whenever the tension and worry got too much I was glad to get back to Hannah in the present day for some relief!
Even though I felt that Hannah was mainly there as a vehicle to tell the historical part of the story it didn’t spoil anything for me. I enjoyed the way that the links to the past were discovered by Hannah and her contemporaries and the surprises that were revealed.
I really did enjoy this so much and with this second book, Sarah Steele has firmly cemented her place on my must read author list. The historical part of the story is a such a compelling read, it draws you in so completely to the plight of these people and the dangers they faced. The characters are superbly drawn, there is an atmospheric sense of place and the cruelty of the regime made me shudder, no matter how many times I read of similar stories. It is a beautifully told story of the bravery of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in doing what they see as the right thing. I am sure this would greatly appeal to any reader who enjoys WW2 fiction.
There is an interesting author note at the end explaining the real life events that inspired this novel.
The Schoolteacher of Saint-Michel is currently 99p to download on Amazon UK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The Missing Pieces of Nancy Moon was inspired by my own love of vintage fashion and dressmaking, with some vicarious travel thrown in, and takes the reader on a tour of the glamorous hotspots of Europe in 1962.
The Schoolteacher of Saint-Michel is set in occupied rural France in 1942, and the story of Lucie Laval and her pupils is one of hope and courage in time of war.
Although I originally trained as a classical musician, writing has always been my passion, and I am never found without a notebook on my person, in case of that unexpected moment of inspiration. I am usually found in the cafés of Stroud, my home town in beautiful Gloucestershire, or walking the local hills with my dog.
For lots of photographs charting my love of vintage fashion and all things home made, as well as the stories behind my stories, do follow my Instagram and Facebook pages @sarahsteeleauthor, or catch me procrastinating on Twitter at @sarah_l_steele. Head to my website to find images of the originals patterns made by Nancy: https://www.sarahsteeleauthor.co.uk