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. Since the scale of their problems is so dissimilar, however, the comparisons between them are inappropriate--the parallels diminished the story of the children of Pithiviers by making that story part of a less monstrous context. The narrative here speeds along and has many surprises, some psychological insights, and considerable suspense, but I was offended by the obvious attempts to show the Pithiviers horrors in connection with Deirdre's lesser, self-imposed problems. Mary Whipple