In 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. --Claire Dederer
From School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Framboise Dartigen relates this story from her point of view as a nine-year-old and as a woman in her 60s. She spent her childhood in a Nazi-occupied French village with her widowed mother and siblings. Knowing that the scent of oranges brought on her mother's severe migraines, Framboise was clever enough or devious enough to hoard orange peel for her own advantage. During their unsupervised play, the children met a young Nazi soldier and were captivated by his charm and the black-market gifts that he gave them. Years later, Framboise, now a widow herself, returns to the village on a quest for the truth about her family's role in a tragic event for which her mother bore the blame and was forced by the townspeople to flee. Framboise inherited her mother's journal, and soon learns that the past and the present are intertwined. Harris has woven a dark, complex story of a dysfunctional family in stressful times. As in the author's Chocolat (Viking, 2000), mother and, later, daughter are gifted cooks whose love of food and cooking shows in the wonderful descriptions of bread, cake, fruit, wine, olives, etc. A picture of life in an occupied territory emerges in which collaborators, resisters, enemies, friends, and family members live in the same area, going about their daily routines. Harris's fans will not be disappointed; her attention to detail, vivid description, and strong characterization are all in this book, too.
Carol Clark, formerly at Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.