The very first chapter of this book was a bit slow for me but I persisted and it started building up and once it really got started, it was beautiful!
before I knew it, I was blown… like literally blown away by this book.
As y’’all probably know by now, Historical fiction is my all time favorite genre… I read a lot of WWII, female perspective fiction and male equally but to be fair, I enjoy reading more from the female perspective. I enjoy learning about the challenges overcome, I think that reading historical fiction helps honors those that came before us and teaches us what to do or not to do in the future. Usually in a WWII book you are prepared to be emotionally wrung out by the end but The Paris Seamstress is different. It’s not any less impactful but it’s a very different story from a different outlook on WWII other than from the heart of Europe, the front-line fighting or a concentration camp like we are familiar with.
Be prepared to go on a ride you will greatly enjoy!
ABOUT THE BOOK
For readers of Lilac Girls and The Nightingale comes an internationally bestselling World War II novel that spans generations, crosses oceans, and proves just how much two young women are willing to sacrifice for love and family.
1940: As the Germans advance upon Paris, young seamstress Estella Bissette is forced to flee everything she’s ever known. She’s bound for New York City with her signature gold dress, a few francs, and a dream: to make her mark on the world of fashion.
Present day: Fabienne Bissette journeys to the Met’s annual gala for an exhibit featuring the work of her ailing grandmother – a legend of women’s fashion design. But as Fabienne begins to learn more about her beloved grandmother’s past, she uncovers a story of tragedy, heartbreak and family secrets that will dramatically change her own life.
PLOT AND CHARACTERS
Our lead girl estella has been sent to New York, USA in order to escape the impending Nazi’s invasion and on the brink of occupying Paris. Our Parisian lead girl is in her late teens/early twenties through the book. She is about to have to fight hard just to survive on the streets and in the fashion industry of New York. Luckily she has had an upbringing in the Paris fashion scene and can copy fashions and create her own that will help her generate income. But first she has to break out and be noticed in New York.
For the longest time, She dreams of designing her own clothes for everyone, yet is stuck copying down the designs of Chanel, Lanvin and all of the big couture designers, and selling the sketches to manufacturers to copy and mass market.
One of the great things about how The Paris Seamstress was set up is that it could be any time period, and any woman’s story of breaking into any industry. There are specifics of course here in terms of gender, the war creating a lack of supplies, and also being an immigrant but these are the ‘things to overcome’ that could be easily modified. The core of this story is about fighting to be seen, heard and become an influence on society in some way. Don’t be dissuaded if you aren’t big into fashion. Clothing is not the heart of the story; overcoming odds and persevering is what this book is really about.
The most endearing part of this story is the characters. The characters are relatable and honest, and Estella is such a strong female protagonist.
Not only is estella genuine, tough but emotional, and hard-working; she is also passionate in so many ways. Be it in her romantic relationships, her work or her desire to be successful or her sorrow over the losses of the war.
I felt like I was walking in Estella’s shoes and living her adventure. Lester’s style is quite elegant and descriptive, and I’m glad I discovered this author.
There are other wonderful supporting or ‘almost main’ characters including her business partners: Sam who she met on the boat to New York and Janie, a model, in one of the showrooms There is also a charming (and rich) suitor but you’ll have to read it to learn about this mysterious man. I can’t tell you about most of the other wonderful people we encounter in other to avoid spoiler opportunities! Just know all the characters are well fleshed out and endearing in their own ways.
Eventually of course the war does taper off and we find out what happens to our leading characters; but don’t be deceived the war is still a major factor and is what drives many of our character decisions.
THE STORY ITSELF
Told from a dual point of view, the narrative switches between the two female protagonists; Estella Bissette’s life as a seamstress, living in nineteen-forty Paris before she’s forced to flee to America to begin a new life. Fabienne Bissette, Estella’s granddaughter brings the story to the present time as she delves into her family’s past after her father, Xander died.
I know I make it sound like the whole book was set in WWII time right? Yeah I wish but it wasn’t which was a bit daunting at times. The problem with this aspect of the writing was that one could have easily lost ALL of the present day story with the granddaughter of our fashionista in New York and missed not a lick of her story.
There is a mystery throughout the book that the writer keeps alive; but I really didn’t care about it at all to be honest. It felt unnecessary and the ‘reveal’ was way more relevant to the impact it made on our WWII characters than it was to the present time ones. I just wanted to keep being along for the stories of our characters during WWII. Of course the mystery ties everything together but honestly without it this is still be an amazing five star book. It felt like an editor told the Author all about how these days people like the split perspective in time for historical novels so add that in. I’d have preferred more scenes with our leading lady encountering high society and snobbery in New York, or our model’s exploitation concerns than read about the present day granddaughter at all.
Filled with heartbreaking intrigue, the shocking discoveries made by Fabienne certainly add darkness to the riveting narrative.
If you are big on historical like me, If you want to read about a strong female lead in WWII I think you’ll really enjoy this. It is more driven by our characters than the mystery itself. I adored this book and would highly recommend it out to all historical fiction fans and even readers outside the genre boundaries. A good story about people creates a space where the genre becomes irrelevant and is instead just a great character driven read. The writing is beautiful and brings the beauty of Paris, New York and that era to life.