“Chateau of Secrets” is a novel about the French Resistance and loosely based on the life of Genevieve de Saint Pern Menke, who risked her life to save downed Allied airmen during World War 2. There truly *was* a chateau in France, with tunnels underneath where Resistance fighters hid along with the airmen. You can see photos of the chateau on Melanie’s blog here:
“Chateau of Secrets” is a dual story. Chloe, engaged to a up-and-coming gubernatorial candidate, plans a trip to France to uncover her grandmother’s story during the war. She finds a lot more than she bargained for! Discovering just prior to her trip that her fiance is not who she thought he was, Chloe is fleeing both her disillusionment and her own confusing personal motivations. Somewhat predictably (as far as the romantic element goes), she meets someone who helps her to not only regain trust, but also with sorting out her questions. And Chloe has lots of questions; questions about where God is in the hard times, and Who He really is. Can one truly begin over again, even after a history of failure and wrong decisions? Can we judge those who make choices that we would find unacceptable?
However, this is really not the main thrust of the novel. The novel focuses more on the questions Chloe struggles with in her search for the truth to her family’s secrets, why they felt they had to keep silent, and what motivates people in such times of stress and hardship to either resist, take courageous action, or to cooperate with a dangerous enemy.
There is plenty of suspense:
“A sound from one of the bins startled her, and she held her breath.
What if one of the entrances to the tunnel was in here? What if one of the members of France’s resistance stuck his head into a room filled with Germans? Surely none of them would be so stupid…
But they had no way of knowing the Nazis were here, on the other side of the wall.”
In reading reviews of “Chateau of Secrets”, I read that some readers took offence with the underlying message linked to Christianity in the book. I have to be honest here and say that I am not always happy with the overemphatic slant and all-too-predictable plots of contemporary Christian fiction. However, I was pleased to discover that this novel is anything but trite. The novel does include a Catholic convent, some courageous nuns and a chapel, all realistic parts of life in this village in France.
The author is not in the least offensive in her portrayals, but rather gives a picture to the reader of her characters both realistically in their beliefs and in their level of devotion. (This is wartime, remember? plenty of reason for some to, in desperation, turn to a God for help and solace in time of need.) There are also consequently questions Chloe has that, like in our day, simply go unanswered; the problem of good versus evil is a never-ending topic and one not solely explored in literature.
There is one scene in the book where the Christian faith is explained more fully, but it is not a chapter that to me should give the reader resentment, as it is simply a part of the story and Chloe’s inward searching.
After I wrote my own thoughts on this, I was pleased to find this review that seemed to affirm my own perspective:
‘Religion plays a noticeable role in the story, but it flows naturally and is applied to the characters in very realistic ways. I abhor preachy fiction with a passion and was stunned at how effectively Dobson was able to utilize faith as a primary theme without pontificating. ‘
I enjoyed learning that there actually were Jewish soldiers that served in the Wehrmacht. That was eye-opening! I also like the way the courageous actions of Gisele and her brother Michel were written about. There is a somewhat slow build-up to this novel but it still kept me reading as I had to discover whether Adeline, the young Jewish baby, will be kept safe.
“What did your grandfather say about the resistance?” Riley asked.
My own questions resurfaced. I wished Grandpa had told me his stories before he passed away.
But I didn’t have to prove anything to Riley or the reporter in Richmond or to anyone else. Meme was proud of Henri Sauver’s military and then resistance record, and so was I. “My grandfather didn’t like to talk about the war.”
“I wonder why not,” he said.”