In The Dressmaker’s Gift, Fiona Valpy paints a vivid image of France during World War II, transformed by Nazi Germany occupation.
The Dressmaker’s Gift follows three seamstresses, united by love, bravery and determination for a better life.
The novel alternates between the experiences of seamstresses Claire, Mireille, and Vivienne, who are working in Paris during wartime, and Claire’s English granddaughter Harriet, who is desperate to find her roots in modern-day Paris.
The three seamstresses attempt to go about their normal lives, but all are hiding secrets – Claire has been seduced by a German officer, Mireille is fighting with the Resistance, and Vivienne’s involvement is something she cannot even divulge to either of them.
Harriet, Claire’s granddaughter, has just moved to Paris to work as an intern in the same building her grandmother once did, and begins to unravel the story of Claire and her friends. As she does this, she comes to learn and understand the fear, challenges, and impossible choices that the three women encountered, discovering more about herself and her family.
Valpy excels in her description – from the first few chapters, you’re immersed in the Parisian landscape, making it hard to put down and remove yourself from the world she portrays. It definitely becomes a lot darker as the novel progresses, as Valpy reveals the harsh reality of wartime, the Resistance, and the Nazi regime. If you’re into historical books, this is the book for you.
When reading the first few chapters, I initially found myself uninterested in Harriet’s perspective and wanted more focus on the wartime stories, which I found particularly captivating. However, as the novel progresses, Harriet’s story became a good break from the wartime intensity, but also provides an interesting parallel between the reader themselves and Harriet, as both are two modern-day perspectives look into the dark period of World War II – although uncomfortable, saddening, unbelievable and inhumane at times, it is important to educate ourselves on the past and never forget it. Harriet takes on this information of the past and uses it to strengthen herself and her connection with her family’s past.
When looking at a period of history such as WW2, it’s important to look at its legacy: what lesson do we learn from this awful time and how do we stop it from happening again? How will we use the past to change our future? And that’s when Harriet’s perspective becomes important: it is about the seamstresses work and their sacrifices, and the legacy they left. In fact, when reading back on the very first chapter once finishing the book, it makes a lot more sense and has more meaning.
The strength, resilience, and friendship between the three women are admirable and comforting in such a dark landscape, something that we, as readers, can find comfort in during the current difficult times.
The Dressmaker’s Gift and Fiona Valpy’s other works are available to buy on Amazon.