A Wermacht soldier named Roth works as a translator in Paris as the Germans occupy the city in the months leading up to the Allied invasion of World War II. He does his job by day, but by night he transforms himself into a Frenchman and takes to the streets. He rejoices in the freedom he feels whenever he is out of the restrictive uniform, walking among the Parisiennes. Naturally, he understands the enormity of the risk he is taking but cannot seem to help himself. While it's possible that he thrives on the danger, it seems more likely that Roth simply hates his day job. Shedding all vestiges of his rank allows him to pretend he's strolling around without a care in the world.
"The next afternoon, desire and curiosity overcame fear once again. I pulled the checkered suit out of the wardrobe, took a fresh shirt, and picked out a tie…I was Antoine again!"
Roth's wandering takes him to a bookshop where he notices a young Frenchwoman, Chantal, and falls hopelessly under her spell. Even when he discovers she's part of the French Resistance, he can't stop himself from pursuing her. He spends his daytime hours in the Rue des Saussaies, a notorious bastion of harsh interrogation and hideous torture, translating the words of the prisoners. Not a particularly queasy person, still Roth averts his eyes whenever possible as the brutality is meted out to the unfortunate numbers suspected of underground activities. Instead of spurring Roth to discontinue his evening escapades, it seems to intensify his desire to don Antoine's clothes and amble about the city. And his need to seek out Chantal.
The young German soldier watches feverishly for her, haunting her hangouts in hopes of even a glimpse of her. His tenacity pays off, but as their love is the forbidden fruit, it can be nothing but doomed. Their clandestine meetings must, by necessity, be brief. Totally smitten, Roth finds that he cannot get enough of her. She dominates his thoughts constantly, and it starts to show in his attention to details. He turns dreamy, his mind drifting somewhere far from the Rue des Saussaies.
Of course, the distraction does not go unnoticed. His superiors begin to pay closer attention to Roth. Soon, he finds himself in more trouble than he had imagined possible. Then an alarming message: Chantal has disappeared. Gone into hiding, he reassures himself. He consoles himself in the belief that she escaped capture. But for Roth, life without Chantal is the worst form of torture. He will risk everything to find her. Hopefully, he will be on time.
Roth and Chantal's relationship is nearly as sweet as Romeo and Juliet's, and almost as tragic. Set in a time of great fear and uncertainty, APRIL IN PARIS is a stunning love story that Michael Wallner has penned with a poignancy unequaled by most historical fiction writers.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 5, 2011