First let’s mention the, once again, excellent performance of Saskia Maarleveld. She’s become one of my “go to” narrators especially in historical fiction.
The Lost Vintage is an historical fiction built around two female characters and two periods in time: Kate is our modern female character and Helene lived during WWII in Burgundy.
We alternate between past and present chapters and both stories were fascinating to follow.
As the synopsis suggests Kate, who lives in San Francisco, goes back to the family vineyard in Beaune situated in the French Burgundy region. She was reluctant to go back to France even if her best friend Heather married her cousin Nico because she had left France many years ago leaving Nico’s best friend, Jean-Luc, heartbroken.
But as this is her last chance to study for the Master of Wine Examination, she reluctantly joins the family in France.
Heather is overjoyed to have her best friend with her after so many years!
Soon enough Kate will help Nico and Heather to sort through decades of hoarding in the cellar. While busy cleaning everything the women will discover a hidden cellar filled with pamphlets from the resistance. A mysterious suitcase with clothes and notebooks will also have them discovering a great half-aunt, Helene Chapin.
This was really like a treasure hunt! I loved that part of the story: the guessing of who Helene was and what happened to her!
Kate, Nico and Heather wanted to know more about Helene whom no member of the family had never talked about. Can you imagine in your own family if you discovered such a picture and no family member were willing to talk about it?
Moreover, the hidden cellar is filled with rare wines but some priceless bottles seem to be missing and became part of the hunt.
If we got one chapter from Kate’s POV it was followed by a chapter from Helen’s POV, plunging us in occupied France at WWII!
We soon realize that Kate and Heather have a totally false view of Helen and I really wanted to scream: “No! You have it all backward! Just look. Look!”
The hunt was not easy as we got other side characters trying to undermine Kate’s investigation about Helene. What was their motive? Why where they acting so weird? It added spice and mystery to the story!
I loved following Kate’s path be it in learning about wine (I learned so many things about it!), uncovering the truth and trying to become a Master at Wine.
But the most interesting part of the story was following Helene. We discovered so many unsavory things about the Pétain’s regime! Some had a strong moral compass and did not hesitate to endanger their safety to help refugees. Others led either by greed, either just by the will to survive and feed their family collaborated actively with the Nazis.
And all along I was asking myself: would have I been courageous enough?
My great grand-father was imprisoned as he refused to help the Germans.
Both my grand-fathers resisted and were sent to labor camps.
But faced with hunger and fear, would my values, my sense of right and wrong be strong enough?
I hope I’ll never have to answer such questions of course!
This story was enlightening, it was gripping, it was wonderfully narrated too.
I decided to give it 4,5 stars instead or 5 stars because the love story felt a little weak and kind of rushed at the end of the story. I would have loved seeing more interaction, more clues that feelings were still running high. Instead it came “out of the blue” in the last 15% of the story.
Recommend it? Absolutely!
Have you read this book? Or something similar? Any good historical fiction to recommend me?
Thanks for reading!