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In 1923, Meri, leaves her young brother and Grandmother in Finland to pursue her dream of working as a seamstress in the fashion houses of Paris. She doesn’t speak the language, knows no one, and soon discovers that no Paris fashion house will hire an immigrant from Finland. Determined not to return home and desperate for money, she takes a job as a maid in a hotel with the hope that one day she will still realize her dream. Her journey, from her early days in Paris to her life in post-WWII America, is tumultuous. The circumstances of the time she lives in make life hard, but she’s also extremely naïve and makes decisions without understanding the consequences.
Nine years after her arrival in Paris, pro-Nazi, anti- Semitism is flourishing in France and she is pregnant with the child of her Jewish fiancé. To protect her child, she chooses to disappear from her fiancé’s life and keep her daughter Jeannine’s heritage a secret. That also means that she must live apart from Jeannine while she works as a domestic in order to provide the support that her daughter needs. Once the war is over, she convinces herself that New York City is the best place for her and her daughter and ties herself to a man she doesn’t love to achieve her plans.
Meri is an imperfect character trying to find her way in a world filled with prejudice and discrimination. At times, I wanted to shake her, sometimes I didn’t even like her, but I was always rooting for her. Never Turn Back is an extraordinary novel and I’m glad that Ms. Lee decided that her grandmother’s story was one that needed to be told.
What made this such a powerful story for me is that Meri was a real person, and she didn’t inhabit the fanciful history of fiction, she really lived in these times. Through her we experience what it was like to be a foreigner in France in the 1900’s - scorned, abused, frightened - and yet also determined and resourceful. And triumphant, in her own way. This book was written by Meri’s granddaughter with affection and admiration, and that’s how I felt at the end, too.
By I. DELAVEGA (Fla)
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This review is from: Never Turn Back (Paperback)
Never Turn Back is the book I've been looking for. A book that captures you and doesn't let you go until you've reached the last page.
A book that showcases a woman, Meri, who has a strong character to endure a great deal of strife even in the moments when she thinks things are going to go right.
The author brings you in so you feel all of Meri's anguish, fear and frustration but you can also feel her womanly strength, her powerful determination and her willingness to, at all cost, sacrifice her own life for her daughters. She has a dream and will do whatever it takes to make it come to life.
She struggles with the dream to one day become a designer in one of the design houses in Paris. She leaves her family behind to travel there. She has no knowledge of the language. Her best friend and her had planned their voyage but Meri was left to journey totally alone.
This is a powerful story with a real ending not one that could be considered a fairytale happily-ever-after one.