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Children of Pithiviers [Paperback]

Sheila Kohler
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
Price: 8.55 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

30 Jun 2006
In the summer of 1942, more than two thousand Jewish children were interned in a concentration camp in Pithiviers, in the Loiret region of France. From this shameful chapter of history, Sheila Kohler weaves an extraordinary and compelling novel first published in 2001 and now appearing in paperback for the first time.

In Children of Pithiviers, a pair of young sisters escape deportation and find shelter with a local aristocratic couple known to all as Madame and Monsieur. Seventeen years later, a beautiful young Sorbonne student arrives to spend the summer as a "paying guest" of Madame and Monsieur, whose fortunes have diminished considerably since the war. Eighteen-year-old Deirdre discovers a diary kept by the two Jewish girls. In doing so, she not only learns their fate, but reawakens old suspicions, and old appetites on the estate.

Product details

  • Paperback: 204 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press; Reprint edition (30 Jun 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590512065
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590512067
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 14.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,578,088 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAME TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
There's a weird dichotomy about this book, which sometimes feels like an eerie Gothic romance and at other times feels like the Diary of Anne Frank. The title suggests that the book will tell the horrifying story of the children of Pithiviers, those French Jewish children wrested from their families and warehoused in Pithiviers before being turned over to the Germans for extermination. The primary focus of the book, and the vehicle through which the Pithiviers story is revealed, however, is the character of Deidre, a pliable, uncritical, 17-year-old Sorbonne student from the Transvaal, sent to Pithiviers in the French countryside for the summer of 1959, following her "disgrace" in Paris and her subsequent abortion.
Deidre quickly discovers that life with her hosts is more a form of bizarre sexual education than the elevating cultural experience she had expected. Abused, Deidre retreats, at times, to the attic, where she has discovered a series of notes written in the margins of some old magazines by two young girls, obviously children who have hidden there during the war, and who believed that "Nothing seriously wrong can happen in France: is it not the country of the Rights of Man?"
Although some critics felt that intertwining these stories increased their emotional impact, I disagree. The story of the children of Pithiviers is so horrific and their betrayal by collaborators so shocking that no other story could possibly make the reality more powerful. The author, however, creates obvious parallels between Deidre's "imprisonment" by Madame and the Baron, and the earlier, similar imprisonment of Lea and Anna, the two Jewish girls.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brave, powerful book 6 Jan 2003
By Dawn Raffel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book is a complex and chilling investigation of the darkest human impulses. The writing is exquisite, but more importantly, Kohler makes us ask ourselves the hard questions--which is how I define moral fiction. I can't imagine it was Kohler's intention to put the seduction of Deirdre on a scale with the tragedy of the children of Pithiviers, but rather, to make us look at the nature of corruption and compliance, to force us to look in the scary places--and this she has done brilliantly.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Subtle and not, this book will make you think 28 Oct 2004
By KatPanama - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The writing is merely superb but the thinking is more than that. A short novel with a long agenda and complicated acting out. This novel is entirely finest kind and full enough of itself that satisfaction is at least as complicated. This is a book I will be giving to my friends.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On Morality 7 July 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a book for people who don't need to be spoonfed lessons in morality. Rather than drawing comparisons between Diedre's summer in Pithiviers and the horrors of the Holocaust, I thought the author's point was that the children imprisoned and gassed by the Nazi's clearly are the more tragic victims. And I admire the fact that she didn't think she needed to explain that to me. While Diedre almost willingly participates in her own exploitation at the hands of her hosts, the children who came before her had no options at all. Yet by showing us Diedre's more contemporary story, Kohler is able to lead us to the more horrific history of this region of France and suggest that while the two horrors are not equal, they exist on an unfortunate spectrum of abuse that continues to exist to this day. This is really quite brave and daring, and the writing is exquisite.
11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars No justice here for the children of Pithiviers. 29 Jun 2001
By Mary Whipple - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
There's a weird schizophrenia about this book, which sometimes feels like an eerie Gothic romance and at other times feels like the Diary of Anne Frank. The title suggests that the book will tell the horrifying story of the children of Pithiviers, those French Jewish children wrested from their families and warehoused in Pithiviers before being turned over to the Germans for extermination. The primary focus of the book, and the vehicle through which the Pithiviers story is revealed, however, is the character of Deidre, a pliable, uncritical, 17-year-old Sorbonne student from the Transvaal, sent to Pithiviers in the French countryside for the summer of 1959, following her "disgrace" in Paris and her subsequent abortion.
Deidre quickly discovers that life at the dilapidated mill with Madame and the Baron is more a form of bizarre sexual education than the elevating cultural experience she had expected. Madame massages, bathes, and caresses her, has her walk around nude, and even dresses her, at one point. The sixtyish Baron fondles her under the table at her 18th birthday party, excites her, and later has an affair with her. Deidre retreats, at times, to the attic, where she has discovered a series of notes written in the margins of some old magazines by two young girls. They are obviously children who have hidden there during the war, bright girls of twelve and fifteen who miss their Maman desperately, but who continue to believe that "Nothing seriously wrong can happen in France: is it not the country of the Rights of Man?"
Although one of the critics felt that intertwining these stories increased their emotional impact, I strongly disagree. The story of the children of Pithiviers is so horrific and their betrayal by French collaborators so vile that no other story could possibly make the reality more powerful. The author, however, creates obvious parallels between Deidre's "imprisonment" by Madame and the Baron, and the earlier, similar imprisonment of Lea and Anna, the two Jewish girls. Since the scale of their problems is so dissimilar, however, the comparisons between them made me cringe--the parallels diminished the story of the children of Pithiviers by making that story part of a less monstrous context. No matter how remote and isolated Deirdre may have felt from her family, or how helpless she may have been to resist the corruption to which she was exposed by her hosts, she nevertheless had choices absolutely unavailable to Lea and Anna in Pithiviers during World War II.
Because the narrative here speeds along and has many surprises and psychological insights, other readers may become caught up in the problems of Deidre with their considerable suspense. I found her unrealistic and much too pliable, however, even for 1959, and I was offended by the obvious attempts to make me view the Pithiviers horrors in connection with her lesser problems.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as deep as it seems 29 Sep 2001
By H.S. Cross - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I read this after Cracks, Kohler's earlier novel, and felt a similar disappointment with each. Kohler is good with creating an atmosphere where a hidden, horrible truth seems to lurk just outside the field of vision. Unfortunately, the truth here is predictable and lacks impact. Dodo, the 18 year old protagonist, floats passively and naively through the events of the novel, while the reader can see the other characters' machinations a mile away. I actually found the hidden-children plot auxilliary. The real story is Dodo's relationship with the de C's and their seductive duplicity. The Vichy France revelation was just one more example of this, not the central event of the book, in my opinion. Ultimately, I felt Kohler had all the elements of an evocative novel, including skilled prose, but that they didn't add up to much. I finished it quickly, unmoved and unsatisfied.
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