'Odette's Secrets' is fiction but based on a true story; written for wise children, but affecting this adult; a memoir written in prose but lineated as end-stopped lines of poetry -- simple declarative sentences, unadorned.
Odette is a Jewish girl in Paris, seven or eight years old, when the Germans invade France, and Jews are subject to racial laws (the yellow star, exclusion from public spaces) and then deportation. Her father, who has joined the soon-to-be defeated French Army, is captured and not heard from again until after the war. Odette lives with her mother and cared for as well by the concierge of the building, Marie, who is her godmother (truly a fairy godmother). Odette is spirited away to the country side, under strict injunction never to reveal she is Jewish. She comes to love the country side, the villagers' ways, even the Christian love embodied in the Virgin, Marie. Cruel children do accuse her of being Jewish when a little boy dies in the house she stays at (echo of the blood libel accusations against Jews). Her protector is none other than an elderly six-fingered man who knows what it is to be different. But as true of human-kind, even he is the village's drowner of unwanted kittens.
The war ends, Odette returns to a Paris, bereft of color. Several of her friends and relatives never return. Only boxes of ashes representing the lost are buried in a ceremony at Père Lachaise Cemetery. Odette is now Jewish again. But how to be Jewish, and where? What does it mean to be Jewish? "To be a Jew is to know death and to love life."
The real Odette (Meyers), who died in 2002, used her experiences to teach successive generations of children what it means to be human.