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Synopsis

In every war there are stories that do not surface. You can try to forget, but sometimes the past can return: in the scent of a bar of soap, in whispers darting through a village after mass, in the color of an undelivered letter.

Jeanne Nerin and Marie-Angèle Baudry grow up side by side in the Catholic village of Ste. Madeleine, but their worlds could not be more different. Marie-Angèle is the grocer's daughter, inflated with ideas of her own piety and rightful place in society. Jeanne's mother washes clothes for a living. She used to be a Jew until this became too dangerous. Jeanne does not think twice about stealing food when she is hungry, nor about grasping the slender chances life throws at her. Marie-Angèle does not grasp; she aspires to a life of comfort and influence. When war falls out of the sky, the forces that divide the two girls threaten to overwhelm those that bind them together. In this dizzying new order, the truth can be buried under a pyramid of recriminations.

Michèle Roberts's new novel is a mesmerizing exploration of guilt, faith, desire, and judgment, bringing to life a people at war in a way that is at once lyrical and shocking.

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