In my latest book, Final Transgression, my beautiful, high-spirited heroine Séverine Sevanot embarks on a perilous visit to her hometown in the southwest of France – in spite of warnings not to go there. It is 1944 and the Resistance is busy blowing up train tracks and derailing trains to stop the Nazis. It is probably the worst time to take a train and on top of that the hometown which is her destination is a tinderbox where French résistants are fighting not only the Nazis but their own countrymen, pro-German and pro-Vichy collaborators. The advice is sound, but she ignores it, for Séverine always does what she wants. The train and the decision to take the trip is an important part of the book – and of her life. Had she listened to the warnings, her destiny would not have taken the dramatic turn that it did (it might have taken another one but that is mere conjecture).
I won’t tell you all about the book – it would take too long. But in this article and articles to come, I am going to take you to some of the places Séverine goes through brief excerpts from the book that not only show where she is geographically, but where she is in her head.
Today’s excerpt takes place on a late winter day in 1944. Séverine has asked her sister Caroline to accompany her to the Gare d’Austerlitz. It’s a surprise request because Caroline has no idea that her sister is planning to leave Paris to return to the hometown where they grew up.
How like her little sister to set the stage for her dramatic announcement, Caroline thought, as she recalled Séverine’s offhand invitation ; would she join her for a sisterly stroll along the Seine? They had ambled eastward, arm in arm, from Caroline’s place on the rue de l’Odéon, past the Ile de la Cité and the magnificent Notre-Dame Cathedral, and ended up at the Jardin des Plantes, one of their favourite places in Paris.
The weather was beautiful; not a cloud in the sky, and Caroline was happy to be with Séverine, whom she adored. The war permeated their lives, but at least they had food to eat, although barely enough, and clothes on their backs. And they were alive…
Séverine nudged her, then pointed to the Gare d’Austerlitz across the street from where they were standing.
“See the station?”
“How could I not?” Caroline asked, with a slightly superior older-sister smirk.
“I’m getting on a train there and going back to our hometown. I ask only one thing––don’t tell Mama and Papa until after I’ve gone.”
Ignoring Caroline’s astonished expression, Séverine turned to face the Jardin des Plantes and recited a few facts about its history. “Did you know that the garden is more than three hundred years old?” she asked. “Actually, it’s three hundred and ten years old this year, and was created by Louis XIII to grow medicinal herbs. And the zoo that’s on the grounds? During the Commune in 1871, famished Parisians ate most of the animals in it.”
Caroline reflected, not for the first time, that Séverine should have been a teacher. Ever since she was small, she’d had such a love of learning that she often couldn’t refrain from sharing knowledge, no matter the subject. Her sometimes ill-timed exposés were also a clever way of avoiding subjects she didn’t want to discuss. Caroline was used to both her tactics and her unpredictability and knew it was best not to presss her right now. She’d give her reasons for leaving when she was ready, and not before.”
We’ll leave Caroline and Séverine at the train station now. In my next excerpts, I will show Séverine at different ages and in different places. Gradually, you will begin to get an idea of her personality and character and circumstances. Her circumstances change as we go along. She is poor and becomes rich. She is secure and becomes insecure. As you get to know her, hopefully you’ll want to know more about her life and her friends and family and will read the entire book!