Saturday 14 December 2013

Book review : The People In The Photo - Hélène Gestern

The People In The Photo is the poignant tale of two people, trying to uncover the mysteries of their parents. Hélène, an archivist living in Paris, has always known that her mother died when she was three but that is as far as it goes - it was always a taboo subject in her childhood and now, the only people who could have unlocked the secrets are dead or lost to Alzheimer's. When she discovers an old photo of her mother, accompanied by two men, she takes out an ad to try to identify the two strangers and, she hopes, thereby uncover a little more about the enigma that is her mother. 

When Stéphane, a Swiss biologist living in Kent, recognises his father in the photo, he replies, hoping to provide some enlightenment but never in a million years expecting to be drawn into Hélène's quest for information and, ultimately her life, both past and future. It may seem unlikely that two people from such distant places would be thrown together by an old photo, but I have been surprised in the past, during my own research into my family tree, to receive messages from as far afield as America and Australia. 

Written almost entirely in emails and letters between Stéphane and Hélène, we uncover the unfolding story of past lives and loves at the same time as the characters, as well as witnessing their growing sentiments for each other. It's a poignant and sentimental tale, spot on in the way it portrays both characters' reactions to their tragic discoveries, but on a deeper level, it also looks at man's natural desire to know all about his personal heritage, but at what cost? The sayings "let sleeping dogs lie" and "ignorance is bliss" exist for a reason, but Hélène's desire to know where she came is, quite understandably, like an itch that really needs to be scratched.

The book is translated from the French by Emily Boyce and Ros Scwhartz and they've done a fine job - it reads seamlessly and I had no idea it was a translated work until I checked the book info. 

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Gallic Books (17 Feb 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1908313544
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908313546

Disclosure : I received an early reading copy of the book in order to write an honest review.

Other reviews you may be interested in :

Book review : Black Roses - Jane Thynne

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