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The Mark Of The Angel [Paperback]

Nancy Huston
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

24 Aug 2000

The year is 1957 and the place is Paris, where the psychic wounds of World War II have barely begun to heal. Saffie, a young German woman, becomes maid, then wife, to Raphael, a privileged French musician who finds her remoteness provocative and irresistable. One day in the old Jewish quarter of the city, where she has taken Raphael's flute to be repaired, Saffie meets a Hungarian instrument maker - and all their lives are unexpectedly, dramatically altered.

Driven by passion but damaged in different ways by war, these two people find themselves crossing dangerous boundaries. Told against the rising tide of violence unleashed by the Algerian conflict, The Mark of the Angel builds to a shocking climax conveying the loss of innocence and the tragic irony of these lives twisted out of shape by the weight of history.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (24 Aug 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099283646
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099283645
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 566,784 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

From Nancy Huston, a Canadian writer who has lived in France for a couple of decades, comes a modest proposal in the form of a novel: maybe millennial fiction shouldn't look forward; maybe it should look back to the shames and sadness of the 20th century. The Mark of the Angel, a bestseller in France, tells the story of Saffie, a young German girl who takes a job as a housekeeper in 1957 Paris. Her employer, a brilliant young flautist named Raphael, falls hard for her, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that he finds her "impassive" and "impenetrable." Hard-eyed Saffie seems to sleepwalk through life and, as if in a dream, she and Raphael marry and have a son, Emil. When Raphael sends her off to have his flute repaired one day, he little suspects what he's setting in motion.

In András, the instrument maker, Saffie finds a damaged twin. Both are victims of the horrible experiment of Hitler's war: German Saffie has endured not only rape and torture but also the knowledge of her own family's Nazi sympathies. Hungarian Jew András has lost his family and his country. The two embody the horrors that Europeans visited on each other in the middle of the 20th century. They covertly embark on a five-year affair, during which their love comes to be sorely tested by the Algerian war for independence from France.

Huston's prose is cool, opaque, ironic and intensely romantic. Her style and her story both owe a great debt to Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a debt she seems to acknowledge explicitly: "Saffie is crushed, stifled, petrified by the ... how to put it ... the unbearable tenuousness of the moment ... Dizzy with inexistence, she clutches at András's arm--and he, misunderstanding, sets Emil down in a chair on the café terrace--turns to his lover--takes her in his arms and begins to waltz with her ... Ah! Thanks to András, the hideous unreality of the world has been held at bay once again, movement has turned back into true movement, instead of immobility in disguise." Kundera's preoccupation with Nietzsche's concept of the eternal return is clearly at work here too: the past, Huston warns us loud and clear, is never past. --Claire Dederer


"You may never read a novel crafted with more wonder and mystery than Nancy Huston's The Mark of the Angel. At once compelling and highly original, it probes not merely the characters' hearts and lives but the very nature of storytelling." -Arthur Golden, author of Memoris of a Geisha "Huston's language is beautiful, with startling juxtapositions of imagery.... Huston has made a chilling and beautiful work of art." -"Boston Phoenix" "Describing Nancy Huston's wonderfully provocative and enigmatic new novel as a tale of adultery in the dreary and uncertain Paris of 1957-1963 is to suggest that The Scarlet Letter is about infidelity and Moby Dick about whaling.... This is a superbly readable story spun with perfect ease and balance." -"The Providence Journal" "The writing style is almost tactile, like a dressmaker caressing a fine peice of silk or satin the better to show it off. Huston has a sensitive yet sure-handed grasp of her craft." -"Washington Times" "A brilliant, powerfully written novel." -"Rocky Mountain News" "At once [a] love story, war tale and psychological thriller....An engaging, intelligent novel." -"The Plain Dealer"

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautifully Written and Believable Tale 19 Oct 2003
The setting of 'The Mark of the Angel' is in Paris, 1957. It's a story of two people from different backgrounds (she is German, he is French) who meet and marry. But the recent past of World War II and the current rising violence, which eventually leads to the independence of Algeria, shape the attitude of these two characters into a disastrous climax.
The seemingly simple style of this story could make some readers believe that it's just a 'pulp romance' novel -- there are, however, layers of psychological levels to the characters and a complexity in the way setting and storyline are entwined together that make this novel far from being simplistic or a 'pulp romance' novel. Saffie, the female protagonist, is a difficult character to read -- and agreeably unpleasant at times -- and that's why makes the story even more intriguing; we are not dealing with nice and 'normal' cardboard cut-out characters, where everything is beautiful and everyone holds hands at the end of the story.
This book is not a lovely love story, but a character study on how war tears down the fabric of human nature, how it effects everyone for years to come, even for genertations to come -- it a story about confusion, betrayal, jealousy and revenge. Nancy Huston has done a wonderful at showing how difficult it can be to deal with the world around us, and how sometimes human behaviour can be misinterpreted by those who live in a protected world.
'The Mark of the Angel' is a disturbing tale of passion and survival, which makes the reader reflect on the humand condition long after the book has been read. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Mark of the Angel 14 July 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Nancy Huston's unusual novel begins in 1957 in Paris, when famous flautist, Raphael Lepage, advertises for a maid. Responding to his advertisement is Saffie, a young German girl and, immensely attracted by her air of cool detachment, Raphael soon finds himself proposing marriage, but is later dismayed when Saffie's remoteness does not appear to be hiding an inner passion. When their son, Emil, is born, Raphael hopes that Saffie will now reveal some real feelings, but it is not until she visits the old Jewish quarter of the city, and meets Andras, an exiled Hungarian instrument maker, that Saffie finally comes to life. Both Saffie and Andras, damaged by the ordeals they underwent during the war, fall passionately in love with one another, and it is through their conversations and their experiences when Saffie visits Andras in his workshop, and where they make love in a curtained alcove, that the reader learns what has happened to them and how their lives have been shaped by the events they have witnessed. (There is a lot more to this story, of course, but I shall leave the remainder for prospective readers to discover for themselves).

Set amidst the violence of another war, this time the horrors of the Algerian conflict, and ending with a further tragedy, Nancy Huston's novel made for an unusual and thought-provoking read. Yet somehow I was not as moved by this novel as I would have expected, especially considering some of the subject matter covered in the story. I think this may have been partly due to author's style of writing, with quite a number of short sentences, some of them comprising of just one or two words, and many instances where the sentences ended with a series of dots ... which I found a little distracting.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A heart wrenchingly moving tale 18 Dec 2000
By A Customer
An unputdownable book!! Saffie is a damaged German girl in post-war Paris. Against all the rules of a tough class system, Raphael falls in love with her even though she seems completely indifferent to him. Her life just follows a routine and she goes through the motions of being a wife and mother - until the day she meets her damaged soulmate, Andras. An absolute page turner. Very emotive and atmospheric - I could picture Saffie and Andras walking hand in hand along the Seine. An emotional rollercoaster, Huston makes it very easy to sympathise with each character. An absolute heart wrencher of a story that will leave you exhausted. If you liked Birdsong I think you'll like this too. Thoroughly recommended.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "One of the best novels I have read this year" 27 Jun 2001
A brilliant novel bringing her character, Saffie, to life as Huston endulges herself into the character. A good read suitable for a wide range of readers. Well worth the read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.6 out of 5 stars  20 reviews
35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a great book. 14 Sep 1999
By A Customer - Published on
I was privileged to be given an advance copy of Nancy Huston's new book, The Mark of the Angel. I started reading it over supper one evening this summer after arriving home from work late, and didn't put it down -- *couldn't* put it down -- until after midnight when I finished it in tears. I was totally caught up in the lives of these people, totally engrossed in their interwoven, tragic lives and the larger context in which they lived.
It took my breath away. It is a beautifully written book, very poetic, profoundly moving, and such an important novel for the end of this century. I haven't read such a powerful novel since Poisonwood Bible, which I also read in galley a year earlier. (And I read (and listen to) a *lot* of books.) Like Poisonwood, it is at once a detailed study of the intimate lives of people you come to care about very much, and also a profound statement about power and imperialism. It offers spiritual and political lessons as well as its poetry.
I hope this isn't a spoiler... but when I finished the book, aside from wiping away my tears, the only other thing I could think to do that seemed appropriate was to give my (teen-ager) son a long, warm hug.
I hope that many, many, many people will discover this gem of a book and love it as much as I did.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful! 23 Jan 2001
By CoffeeGurl - Published on
What beautiful and unique writing! Nancy Huston is a great French-Canadian writer whose work I will be looking forward to reading in the future. The Mark of the Angel is a stunning novel set in Paris during the 1950's. The historic feel of the novel -- after World War 2, during the Algerian war -- is extremely accurate! The story of a daughter of a Nazi having an affair with a Jewish Communist is thought provoking and intense. There are various political views illustrated in this novel.
Huston's writing style makes this beautiful work of art seem like silk. The narrative style is very unique. A tale of adultery, this novel sort of reminds me of The Scarlet Letter, but with strong political views and great historical feel. I highly recommend this book!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Memorable and very well written 17 Oct 2000
By K. Denny - Published on
The structure and style of this novel are engaging and effective. The interjections of the narrator force the reader to focus not only on Saffie's story, but to pull back from this narrow focus and absorb the author's bigger message. Her message is a grim one - that history teaches us little, and that human beings will continue to abuse and murder one another with the belief that their cause is right and justifiable. I think the reader could have understood the message with a little less input from the narrator whose voice was, at times, intrusive and tended to state the obvious. This is a novel that delivers a disturbing assessment of mankind, but it is beautifully written and gives the reader much food for thought. I will forever think of the philtrum (that funny little dent between your nose and your upper lip) as "the mark of the angel" now, and remember Ms. Huston's powerful book and message as I do.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Mesmerizing Tale of Psychosis 2 Feb 2000
By A Customer - Published on
This was a book that kept me interested from the very beginning. Perhaps it has something to do with the author's style which shares a remarkable similarity with Milan Kundera's, who happens to be one of my favorite writers. Or, maybe it has to do with the Rue de Seine, in which much of the book takes place, and, where I have spent a lot of time over the years. Huston's way of telling this story about a young German woman's life in the aftermath of WWII is highly unusual and also reminds us of the terrible consequences of a cataclysm of this magnitude. Very few works deal with the absolute terror and madness that war inflicts on its survivors. The particular way the author works out the story of Saffie is truly a work of profound intelligence that should get its rightful recognition amongst late 20th century fiction. Congratulations, Nancy Huston. Not only are you lovely to look at, you are a very good writer.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Mark of a Gifted Writer 9 Jun 2000
By Beezley - Published on
Huston manages to create a mural of the failure and pain of being human in the arc of human history. Her exquisite juxtaposition of the Algerian War and the love story of damaged survivors of WWII set in bas relief the eternal story of love and war throught time. In addition, Huston defies the common notion that the study of history teaches humanity to prevent its relapse. In both the devestation of memory and the torture of forgetting, she points out danger lines the road. Interjecting the ironic voice of the narrator into this tale of Saffie, Andras and Raphael, Huston leads us through the repetitive labyrinth - politics, anger, hate, dismemberment, torture, death - "old, old, old story called 'news.'" Her characters shine like iconic figures caught in klieglights through the very last word. The reader is snared, captured and devastated as Huston unfolds a tale of doomed love and doomed lives in the Parisian streets of the late 50's. Surely a most gifted writer, Huston forces us to ponder the meaning of being "human".
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