“From the bestselling author of Sea of Memories comes the story of two remarkable women, generations apart, who must use adversity to their advantage and find the resilience deep within.”
A novel with two female protagonists, this book also has two timelines.
Abi Howes (present day): An Englishwoman who has survived an abusive marriage and a serious automobile accident in which her husband was mortally wounded. Now Abi travels from London to France to partake in a yoga retreat with her friend, Pru. She feels that the peace and serenity of the French countryside will help her to recover both mentally and physically from the accident. When she strays from the retreat while walking, she meets a local woman, Sara Cortini, who gives her shelter from a summer storm – and eventually a summer’s employment at the Château Bellevue – which is used during the summer months as a wedding venue.
Over the course of the summer, Sara tells Abi the story of the woman who worked at the Château during WWII. Her name was Eliane Martin.
Eliane Martin – 1938-1944: A young woman, Eliane Martin tends the beehives and kitchen gardens of the Château Bellevue. Content and happy with her lot in life, everything changes for Eliane, the Château, and the country when the German army occupies France. They requisition Château Bellevue for purposes of billeting their soldiers. Eliane, and the rest of the meager Château staff are expected to wait on the soldiers. In addition, travel and commerce was greatly hampered by the German occupation. Not to mention, many of the French countrymen were being deported to the labour camps if they were Jewish.
The Château Bellevue was situated on the border between the occupied zone and the free zone of France. Located on a hilltop, it was the ideal spot to transmit and monitor radio messages to aid the French Resistance fighters – but with German soldiers billeted there, sending such messages was life threatening…
“They were living with the enemy; it was time to do what she could to resist.”
As the war wages on, year after year, Eliane, her family and friends find it more and more of a struggle to survive. Eliane, at the behest of her employer, the elderly Comte de Bellevue, plays her own part in the resistance movement.
Told in dual timelines, this book was a joy to read. The historical segments of the novel were my favourite and educated me on the role of the French Resistance during the German occupation of France in World War II. Well written and well researched, the novel was a fine combination of historical fiction and women’s fiction. Although there was a love story element, this was in no way the focus of the book.
The setting of the French countryside was described eloquently, both during times of peace and times of war. The characters were ones that captured your heart.
The story illuminates the resilience of the human spirit during times of great adversity. It shows how, when people band together, they possess a fearsome strength.
This is the first time I’ve read Fiona Valpy’s work, but I expect that her name is one I’ll look for in the future. Highly recommended to all who are fans of the genre with the caveat that you just might suffer a book hangover after reading…
I received a complimentary digital copy of “The Beekeeper’s Promise” from Lake Union Publishing/AmazonUK via NetGalley for purposes of this review.
Also, “The Beekeeper’s Promise” is a title which I can put toward my Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.
Fiona Valpy spent seven years living in France, having moved there from the UK in 2007. Her love for the country, its people and their history has found its way into the books she’s written. She draws inspiration from the stories of strong women, especially during the years of the Second World War, and her meticulous historical research enriches her writing with an evocative sense of time and place.
Fiona now lives in Scotland, but still enjoys regular visits to France in search of the sun.
Follow Fiona Valpy on Twitter.