In this amazing, powerful novel, an unwanted child is taken from her unwed mother, the granddaughter of a Polish countess, delivered to a convent in the French countryside, all evidence of her birth obliterated or altered, her existence wiped from the family history. The child has been well-provided for; a governess, Solange, is arranged from a local family. With a weak heart, the infant is not expected to survive. Contrary to expectations, though, the child, whom Solange names Amandine, thrives under the care of her physician and the Carmelite nuns who see this tiny visitor as a gift.
For all the love offered by Solange and the sisters, there is one person who cannot - or will not - warm to the small intruder who has become a part of life at St.-Hilaire. The superior, Mater Paul, turns cold eyes and a heart of stone upon Amandine, her own tragic childhood closing off any opportunity for kindness for one so well-provided for by wealthy relatives, even if Amandine will never know the family name. Consequently, the bright days of Amandine’s childhood are marred by the bitter cruelties inflicted by Mater Paul, harsh actions that baffle the innocent child who cannot understand the source of such wrath: “Who, indeed, does the devil inhabit in this place?”
From convent life to the outbreak of war and the French capitulation to the Germans, de Blasi writes in prose of extraordinary richness, from the joyful curiosity of a young girl’s exploration of the world around her to the malice of a foe who means her harm. It falls to Solange to protect her charge, to right the terrible wrongs that have occurred, plunging both into the next phase of their lives together, the French countryside now riddled with violence and the bodies of the fallen.
Amandine’s world is tragic in spite of her bright spirit and the love of the sisters, the yearning to know her mother a great ache that never leaves her. While Solange is a comfort, the efforts of Mater Paul to punish the child bring an air of menace that would destroy a weaker spirit. Amandine survives as much from her own resources as those of her governess until the two set out for Solange’s home, where they come face to face with the realities of war. A journey that should take two days lasts years instead. Solange and Amandine disappear into the chaos of war, absorbed by the exodus of those fleeing the Germans and those returning home to protect what they might, two small figures against a harrowing landscape.
In a novel filled with unnamable terror and Amandine’s joyful innocence despite her circumstances, de Blasi’s prose transcends the cruelties of Mater Paul and the inexplicable brutality of the Germans in a tale of two brave souls whose love binds them together and heals the most grievous of wounds. Meanwhile, fate beckons, a mother searching for her lost daughter, the slender thread between them unbreakable.