by Joanne Harris
Five Quarters of the Orange, Joanne Harris returns to the small-town,
postwar France of Chocolat.
This time she follows the fortunes of Framboise Dartigan, named for a
raspberry but with the disposition of, well, a lemon. The proprietor of
a café in a rustic village, this crabby old lady recalls the days of
her childhood, which coincided with the German occupation. Back then,
she and her brother and sister traded on the black market with the
Germans, developing a friendship with a charismatic young soldier named
Tomas. This intrigue provided a distraction from their grim home
life--their father was killed in the war and their mother was a
secretive, troubled woman. Yet their relationship with Tomas led to a
violent series of events that still torment the aging Framboise.
Harris has a challenging project here: to
show the complicated, messy reality behind such seemingly simple terms
as collaborator and Resistance. To the children, of course, these were
mere abstractions: "We understood so little of it. Least of all the
Resistance, that fabulous quasi-organization. Books and the television
made it sound so focused in later years; but I remember none of that.
Instead I remember a mad scramble in which rumor chased counter-rumor
and drunkards in cafes spoke loudly against the new regime." The
author's portrait of occupier and occupied living side by side is given
texture by her trademark appreciation of all things French. Yes, some
passages read like romantic, black-and-white postcards: "Reine's
bicycle was smaller and more elegant, with high handlebars and a leather
saddle. There was a bicycle basket across the handlebars in which she
carried a flask of chicory coffee." But these simple pleasures,
recorded with such adroitness, are precisely what give Framboise solace
from the torment of her past.
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