Rating:

9780062297037_p0_v2_s260x420Reviewed by Alisha Churbe

Shakespeare must have been elated to discover a treasure trove of objects left by his aunt in a trunk. The contents of the trunk survived a lifetime of moving, hiding, and travelling. It included letters, photographs, handwritten memoirs and short stories chronicling a life of his aunt Priscilla, a British born woman who was in and contained within a war torn and occupied France in the 1940s. The contents of the trunk told of a story that very few have/had the knowledge of and Shakespeare is able to little by little put together some of the pieces of his aunt’s history. While much is still unknown and other parts are merely conjecture, Shakespeare’s biographical account of his aunt, the war in France and other events of the time period are impeccably researched and presented in this novel/biography.

Priscilla, called extraordinary by many, left behind a legacy in a trunk of documents. Documents that record moments of love, lies, romance, friendship, and history. Shakespeare’s book takes us on his journey as he learns about her life: her lovers, her husbands, her friendships. The timeline can be difficult to follow as the organization is not linear but rather follows chunks of time that fluctuate between different periods of Priscilla’s life and the war. The Second World War is always in the background and the book is just as much a history of the events as it is a portrait of Priscilla.

Priscilla is engaging and compelling. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and all of the events, friendships, and alliances it uncovers, alludes, and detects. There are still pieces of Priscilla that no one can discover. She is described as very charismatic, savvy, and a bit naïve at times, but she was strong, elusive and guarded. Her secrets will forever be hidden in time. The book can be heartbreaking in places, as many of our lives can be if reflected upon, but Shakespeare is able to keep a curious visitor’s distance from the events and his aunt’s feelings. Even in the times where Priscilla is interned in concentrations camps or hospitals recovering and/or suffering, you feel more of an observer than a participant in the events.

This distance made the book enjoyable to read without being overly emotional.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.