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Amandine (Wheeler Hardcover) Hardcover – Large Print, October 22, 2010

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Product Details

  • Series: Wheeler Hardcover
  • Hardcover: 566 pages
  • Publisher: Wheeler Publishing; Lrg edition (October 22, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1410430081
  • ISBN-13: 978-1410430083
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,127,068 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Marlena de Blasi on Amandine

Childhood, beginning with that swim down the straits of the birth canal, is made of at least as much despair as joy. And, as we know, things don’t change all that much over time. Bittersweet is as fine a flavor as life can have at any age. And so are we, all of us, victims? Though arguably entitled to it, Amandine never claims that status. A Candide-esque character tinged with shades of St. Theresa the Little Flower and Forrest Gump, she’s fresh and unpredictable and of an ineffable courage.

Cast from fragments of the lives and times of people I have known, people I know--not the least of which is me, myself--Amandine is a composite. One--perhaps the single--motive for this leap from narrative non-fiction to wander the greater mine-scattered, tall-grassed fields of fiction was the hope that Amandine would resonate a scene or two from a reader’s own early despair, perplexity. Sufferance. That there would grow up from Amandine’s story some other small if wavering light by which the reader might look at these. A presumptuous notion in this literary and societal moment when tales--perceived, invented or real--of hideous childhoods and their lingering detritus are the stuff of readers’ choice. Crisp, dry wood to rouse a victim’s fire. But, as I’ve said, Amandine declines the shorn lamb category. Rather she consents. Not as passive a strategy as one might imagine for, in the quiet space of that consent, she examines, reasons, heals. Is she wise beyond her years? I don’t think so. (Virgin and unfettered, the instinctive capacity for wisdom is greatest in a child. Older and wiser rings true if only rarely. Life itself seems to erode early wisdom, redressing it as cynicism and diffidence. Sometimes we remain wise but I don’t think we can aspire to wisdom.) But let me introduce Amandine to you via an excerpt from a letter which she wrote when she was eight years old to her mother, the mother whose name she didn’t know, whom she’d never seen or heard, whose whereabouts were a mystery. The mother who believed her baby had died.

Chère Maman,

You don’t know me. I mean we haven’t met. Actually we did meet but it was when I was very little and I think you were very little, too. I just thought that you might be missing me, wanting to know about me. I didn’t want you to worry and so I thought I would write to you to tell you that I’m fine. I’m well. My name is Amandine. I’m your daughter.

I’m almost eight and I have dark hair, curly and long and mostly all the time woven into plaits by sister Genévieve. Solange used to make my plaits when I was little but now that I live in the dormitory, sister Genévieve does. Solange is like a big sister and an aunt and a teacher but mostly she is my best friend. After you and Jesus, I love Solange best. And Phillipe, too. I shall tell you of Phillipe when I see you. His grandmother had blue hair.

I can never quite tell the color of my eyes which seems to change. It’s something like gray but very dark and almost blue like the sky looks at night. But not exactly. Solange says they’re the color of the inside of an iris, the color deep inside. But not exactly that, either. I’m not big and I’m not small for eight. Well maybe I am a bit small.

I can read with the sixth elementary students and know my multiplication tables and I love to write stories and read about princesses and saints but mostly about princesses. I love to listen to Solange when she tells me stories. She says they’re the same stories that her mother told her. She has a mother, too. And a father and a grandmother and sisters. I think she has 18 cousins. Do you have cousins? I mean if you have cousins, then they are my cousins, too. Would you tell me someday about my cousins? I imagine that their names are Susie and Jeannette and Christine and Diane. I don’t know too many boys' names so I only think about girl cousins. Do I have a grandmother? I hope she’s well, not growing too old before I can get to her to tell her how much I love her. Tell her please that I say prayers for her and that I will come to help her when she’s old. Tell her not to worry because as soon as I find her, I won’t leave ever leave her again. Actually I don’t know why I went away. I can’t remember. Can you remember, maman?....

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

De Blasi, a bestselling memoirist (A Thousand Days in Venice) and food-writer, makes a solid fiction debut with this poignant tale of an orphan growing up in Europe as it descends into WWII. Amandine Gilberte Noiret de Crécy, an illegitimate child born into Polish royalty and ditched at five months by her grandmother at a convent in Montpellier, grows up surrounded by a loving governess, Solange Jouffroi, and adoring nuns and priests. Yet the bitter abbess, Mother Paul, who runs the convent, inexplicably loathes her. Aware of this hatred and longing to find her birth mother, Amandine becomes a serious child who believes there is something wrong with her. After a rash of scarlet fever breaks out at the convent, Solange decides to take Amandine to live with her family, and not long after they leave the convent grounds, they are confronted with the horror the war has brought to France, which has especially dire consequences for Solange. In de Blasi's tale of unexpected turns taken during the search for understanding and identity, she balances heartbreak, loneliness, fear, and hope with aplomb. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

It was boring,dull,flat and had no substance.
Laurie G
The writing is lovely, the setting rich and visual, the characters, both good and awful are all well written, well rounded and interesting.
I've just finished reading this book and I'm still wanting more.
NJ Granna

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Lauren B. Davis on May 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
An absolutely lovely book. The story of war, of a lost child, loneliness, secrets, and innocence. De Blasi, who has up until focused her talents on non-fiction, has written a novel of exceptional beauty. It offers the reader the rare pleasures of wonderful characters, intriguing plot, deliciously rendered settings, all combined with perfect atmosphere and tone.

Amandine, the lost child, born out of wedlock into an aristocratic family in Krakow in 1931, is banished by her grandmother to a remote convent in the French countryside, cared for by a young governess named Solange.

Treated as a pampered pet by the nuns and an irritating humiliation by the Mother Superior, Blasi paints a terrific portrait of what it means to yearn for belonging in a hostile world. The sense of being an outcast is reinforced and elevated when, during WWII, Solange and Amandine flee north to Solange's family home. We follow them through a dangerous, harrowing journey, both physically and psychologically.

The narratives shifts from Amandine back to her grandmother, who regrets her actions, and Amandine's mother, whose life has taken some interesting turns of its own.

It's a dramatic book, and the conclusion is utterly satisfying. I was, frankly, concerned about how De Blasi would handle it, but I needn't have worried, for she proves masterful.

The prose, as well as the story itself, is delightful. Full of wonderful sense details and with a lilt to it, a sort of music, that places the story firmly in European territory, while never feeling false or precious.

Highly recommended.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
When a child is born out of wedlock to the granddaughter of a Polish countess in Krakow 1913, the baby is deposited in a convent in the remote French countryside, although she is not expected to survive infancy. But survive she does and in her short life, this curious and gifted little girl is both the object of love and scorn, her governess, Solange, recruited by the child's grandmother to serve the child's needs in the convent of St.-Hilaire. Although the sisters adore this infant, the superior, Mater Paul, harbors a cruel dislike bred of Paul's own painful history. Naming her small charge Amandine, Solange learns she cannot protect Amandine from the bitter actions of an old woman whose heart is like stone. In elegant, gorgeous prose, di Blasi describes Amandine's years in the convent in moments of sunlight and shadow, where both love and the most blatant cruelties are visited upon an innocent child.

Meanwhile, World War II is building, France in the crosshairs of Germany's ambitions. When Solange leaves the convent with Amandine at the beginning of the war, planning to return to her family home in the north, a journey of two days becomes interminable, the pair carried along in the tide of chaos war has brought to France. It is only through the unsolicited aid of the resistance that the pair moves closer to their goal. Through the years sheltered in the convent to the journey toward Solange's home, de Blasi writes with lush prose ("gorging on the freedom of this vagabond life"), Amandine yearning all the while for a mother she has never known. Through Amandine and Solange, the author explores the joys and tribulations of convent life and the utter devastation of war.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Live2Cruise VINE VOICE on May 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I had mixed feelings about this novel. The first half, centered on Amandine's adoption into and growing up within a French convent pre World War II, was fast-paced and interesting. Somewhere toward the middle it began to drag, and at the end, I just felt disengaged from it.

The novel has an interesting plot: an "illegitimate" highborn infant, secreted away by her grandmother to a convent to save the family from disgrace, all traces of her heritage wiped away. She is mothered by the nuns and particularly by her governess, Solange, until World War II begins to intrude upon France. It's clear that de Blasi is a food writer; her descriptions of food throughout the novel were quite lovely and mouth-watering. She has a similar gift for describing setting.

Where things fell short, for me, were the characters and the overall writing style. The plot, though somewhat predictable in places, was gripping, but left me longing for more depth. I felt similarly about the characters. They always felt two-dimensional to me, even Amandine. Her character was supposed to be angelic, but for a child to always be quite so wise and perfect in her actions just felt a bit unbelievable. The shifts in narration felt awkward and confusing, as though the novel was struggling to find its authentic voice.

I really wanted to like this book more than I did; I think de Blasi is a promising writer and I'm certainly willing to try out her future works. But this fiction debut definitely wanted for more depth in the characters and a tighter writing style.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on May 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In 1931 in Krakow, Poland, an unmarried aristocrat gives birth to a female. To protect her foolish unwed daughter, her mother the Countess lies by telling the new mom that the baby died. The grandmother sends her newborn illegitimate granddaughter to a convent in Montpellier, France run by Abbess Mother Paul and raised by a governess Solange Jouffroi, who names the infant Amandine Gilberte Noiret de Crécy.

Mother Paul detests Amandine while the other sisters are wary of her; only Solange loves her ward. Over the years Amandine wonders why her mom and grandma abandoned her and why the abbess overtly displays her loathing. When scarlet fever ravages the convent, Solange takes Amandine with her to stay with her family as the Nazis blitzkrieg of France turns the two day journey by train into a dangerous odyssey.

This is a wonderful historical tale with a nod to Maslow's Hierarchy; as once the basic biological needs are met, Amandine seeks self actualization by wondering where she belongs. Except for Solange whom she loves as her mom, she fears something is wrong with her for so many to abandon her or loathe her. That sense of identity lost before it is even set make for a strong thriller further anchored in time and place during an era of Nazi atrocities as war engulfs Europe.

Harriet Klausner
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More About the Author

Marlena de Blasi has been a chef, a journalist, a food and wine consultant, and a restaurant critic. She is the author of two cookbooks, Regional Foods of Northern Italy (a James Beard Foundation Award finalist) and Regional Foods of Southern Italy. She and her husband, Fernando, now direct gastronomic tours through Tuscany and Umbria.

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