Set in France and America, News of Our Loved Ones is a haunting and intimate examination of love and loss, beauty and the cost of survival, witnessed through two generations of one French family, whose lives are all touched by the tragic events surrounding the D-Day bombings in Normandy.
What if your family’s fate could be traced back to one indelible summer?
Over four long years, the Delasalle family has struggled to live in their Nazi occupied village in Normandy. Maman, Oncle Henri, Yvonne, and Françoise silently watched as their Jewish neighbors were arrested or wordlessly disappeared. Now in June 1944, when the sirens wail each day, warning of approaching bombers, the family wonders if rumors of the coming Allied invasion are true—and if they will survive to see their country liberated.
For sixteen-year-old Yvonne, thoughts of the war recede when she sees the red-haired boy bicycle past her window each afternoon. Murmuring to herself I love you, I love you, I love you, she wills herself to hear the whisper of his bicycle tires over the screech of Allied bombs falling from the sky.
Yvonne’s sister, Geneviève, is in Paris to audition for the National Conservatory. Pausing to consider the shadow of a passing cloud as she raises her bow, she does not know that her family’s home in Normandy lies in the path of British and American bombers. While Geneviève plays, her brother Simon and Tante Chouchotte, anxiously await news from their loved ones in Normandy.
Decades later, Geneviève, the wife of an American musician, lives in the United States. Each summer she returns to her homeland with her children, so that they may know their French family. Geneviève’s youngest daughter, Polly, becomes obsessed with the stories she hears about the war, believing they are the key to understanding her mother and the conflicting cultures shaping her life.
Moving back and forth in time, told from varying points of view, News of Our Loved Ones explores the way family histories are shared and illuminates the power of storytelling to understand the past and who we are.
From the Author:
My mother, who was French, spent her adolescence under Nazi occupation and often commented on the difference between the French and American words for D-day: Americans say “the D-day invasion;” the French call it la Libération. What’s striking about her observation—about the fact that she made it—is that she lost half her family on D-day. While she was at the University of Paris, taking a physics exam, the Allies bombed her home in Normandy, killing her mother, grandmother, and younger sister.
My mother told the D-day story over and over when I was small, and, because she had survived, married my father, given birth to four daughters, because I loved to listen to her, I didn’t grasp how sad it was. It was the story of how our family began: first the bombs, then (overnight, it seemed) the sudden prosperity of America in the 1960s, my parents both physics professors, my sisters and I complaining that we didn’t want to go to France every summer when there were so many fun things to do in the States.
It wasn’t until I was much older that I understood that my mother told the story over and over because she couldn’t make sense of it. Not only because she was spared by a fluke of scheduling, but because she wasn’t there, she didn’t see what happened. One sister died, but another sister, who happened to be in the yard when the bomb fell, saw everything, dug through the rubble for the bodies, and never spoke of it.
News of Our Loved Ones is my own attempt to make sense of what has no sense. How do we comprehend what we haven’t directly experienced? How does anyone survive what seems unbearable? Reading and writing fiction—which, for me, means imagining myself as the character on the page—is the only way I know to understand the world; so I created a cast of fictional women who endured what my relatives endured and I let each one tell her story.
I think about D-day whenever America goes to war, about the “collateral damage” that even the most just invasion leaves in its wake; and I think about D-day every time I hear of someone avoiding disaster because she cancelled a flight or missed the school bus. What has been most gratifying about sending News of Our Loved Ones out into the world are the readers who have told me that this story about the past helped them reckon with the seeming hopelessness of the present.