Thursday, February 6, 2014

Last Train to Paris by Michele Zackheim

Title: Last Train to Paris
Author: Michele Zackheim

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1930s / Paris / Berlin / World War II / Journalism / Mother-Daughter Relationships / Murder Mystery / Judaism)
Publisher/Publication Date: Europa Editions (1/7/2014)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Didn't really like.
Did I finish?: Nope.
One-sentence summary: A woman reflects back on her time as a journalist in pre-World War II Europe, which includes a love affair, the murder of a family members, and her struggles with her mother.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction, What's in a Name

Do I like the cover?: Yes.

I'm reminded of...: Cynthia Ozick

First line: Some days, I'm too angry for words.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow if you're a fan of World War II narratives.

Why did I get this book?: I like Europa Editions usually as they have unique angles or voices in fiction.

Review: I don't know what's wrong with me but I really ought to have loved this book.

Told in first person by Rose 'R.B.' Manon as she looks back at her time in Europe before World War II started, the novel is filled with action yet has an aloof, distanced narrative style that really left me feeling cold and detached. There are so many disparate themes and threads in the plot I couldn't find anything to really hang onto, and I didn't feel any sort of connection with Rose.

Born to a Jewish mother who denied her heritage and a Catholic father, Rose grew up in Nevada and wished to live in New York City where her parents were from.  In her twenties, she moved to Paris to be a journalist, covering Berlin and the rise of Hitler in Germany.  Tragedy strikes first when Rose's actress cousin Stella is murdered and later when Rose's lover is caught up in the violence in Berlin. Her strangely adversarial relationship with her mother comes to a head, in a manner, during the trial of her cousin's murderer. Through her journalistic work, she brushes up against famed European thinkers and writers, like Janet Flaner and Colette, which shape her as well.

Despite the rich potential of this novel, I just couldn't get into it. The various elements felt disjointed and distracting -- was it a novel of World War II? a kind of murder mystery? a coming-of-age and a mother-daughter tale? -- and I wasn't wild about the writing style, which felt so awkward and clunky, like:
Stella, near tears, was sitting in Clara's living room. "Damn this Hitler character," she said. "He's making us all so nervous."

"It's a scary time, Stella," I replied. "I don't think any of us can find a context for what we're feeling."
or very heavy-handed:
The public was fascinated: that monster, who had no papers, crossed the frontier into France, killed a woman -- and almost got away with it.  It was a metaphor for what the German war machine was threatening across Europe -- except that the Germans were indeed getting away with it. (p105)
I started this book at least six times since I got it in December but it just didn't work for me. However, others have really enjoyed it, like Anna of Diary of an Eccentric (her review) so do check out the other blogs on tour for their thoughts.  Those who like novels about World War II will want to consider this one for sure.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Last Train to Paris to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only, ends 2/21.


  1. Sorry to see you couldn't finish it. Ah well, can't love 'em all, right?

    1. Exactly -- still, it's a bummer because there's so much there to love!

  2. Sounds interesting though, I love (most) World War 2 novels!

    1. You should give it a try if you do like WWII fic -- this has a lot of mood/ambiance in it!

  3. It sounds very indulgent. Kind of like a woman who was stumbling around and didn't know what to think and ended up writing a book pretty much about exactly that. Funny, I would have expected better based on the somewhat sophisticated-looking cover.

    1. Europa puts out really sophisticated fiction, and I suppose this could be seen that way -- a little art-y and modern -- but it didn't gel for me. It did feel a bit indulgent, like a poorly edited fictionalized memoir.

  4. Hm, I like the sound of the book but I do trust your judgement so I'm not sure.

    1. Yeah, I really don't know what to advise! I think if folks read an excerpt and enjoy it, they'll like this one.

  5. This sounds like a good read. Wow, usually you and Anna both love WWII novels. Sorry this one didn't work out for you.

    1. I know, it really should have been a hit for me!

  6. The 'what did it want to be about' would bother me too. Lots of ideas *can* be done but it's difficult. Considering what you've said six times sounds a particularly good effort.

  7. Bummer that this one didn't work for you Audra, but thanks for your honest review for the tour!

  8. I've been curious about this one--it sounds fabulous, but I also fear I'm worn out with war fiction for awhile. Sounds like I'm glad I passed for now!