News of Our Loved Ones
Set in France and America, News of Our Loved Ones is a haunting and intimate examination of love and loss, beauty and the cost of survival, witnessed through two generations of one French family, whose lives are all touched by the tragic events surrounding the D-Day bombings in Normandy.
What if your family’s fate could be traced back to one indelible summer?
Over four long years, the Delasalle family has struggled to live in their Nazi occupied village in Normandy. Maman, Oncle Henri, Yvonne, and Françoise silently watched as their Jewish neighbors were arrested or wordlessly disappeared. Now in June 1944, when the sirens wail each day, warning of approaching bombers, the family wonders if rumors of the coming Allied invasion are true—and if they will survive to see their country liberated.
For sixteen-year-old Yvonne, thoughts of the war recede when she sees the red-haired boy bicycle past her window each afternoon. Murmuring to herself I love you, I love you, I love you, she wills herself to hear the whisper of his bicycle tires over the screech of Allied bombs falling from the sky.
Yvonne’s sister, Geneviève, is in Paris to audition for the National Conservatory. Pausing to consider the shadow of a passing cloud as she raises her bow, she does not know that her family’s home in Normandy lies in the path of British and American bombers. While Geneviève plays, her brother Simon and Tante Chouchotte, anxiously await news from their loved ones in Normandy.
Decades later, Geneviève, the wife of an American musician, lives in the United States. Each summer she returns to her homeland with her children, so that they may know their French family. Geneviève’s youngest daughter, Polly, becomes obsessed with the stories she hears about the war, believing they are the key to understanding her mother and the conflicting cultures shaping her life.
Moving back and forth in time, told from varying points of view, News of Our Loved Ones explores the way family histories are shared and illuminates the power of storytelling to understand the past and who we are.
Praise For News of Our Loved Ones: A Novel…
— Kirkus Reviews
“Abigail DeWitt shows how one generation’s experience is transferred to the next generation. News of Our Loved Ones is a war story that studies the war with the help of the psychological scars its victims suffer from. It is absolutely mesmerizing.”
— Washington Book Review, “Best Novels to Read This Fall”
“In an age of novels where not much happens, DeWitt packs in enough narrative in a short space that would normally keep a multi-volume series running for years. News of Our Loved Ones ponders questions of love, loss, family and the long-reaching impact of war.”
— Wilmington Star News
“An effective and affecting tale of wartime loss and the way that weight of sorrow is held through generations…DeWitt writes in spare prose and has a knack for lovely turns of phrase…Moving.”
— Publishers Weekly
“What a beautiful, haunting novel Abigail DeWitt gives us...These are stories of love and great loss, of memory, of scars, of the devastating force that is war...of how people and families endure, keep going and find new reasons to live...DeWitt writes beautifully, poetically, with great attention to detail that brings the scenes to life and makes the memories and emotions all the more poignant…a book to be savored.”
— Greensboro News & Record
“News of Our Loved Ones is beautifully written work, that untangles the fabric of family, and follows each thread through time, to where meaning is forged from chaos.”
— Simon Van Booy, award-winning author of Father’s Day
“DeWitt’s beautiful and honest novel captures the full force of families spanning decades, wars, and oceans. Each character offers up shards of their existence until a radiant mosaic of deep longing, personal mythmaking, and remarkable endurance emerges. These characters brave the search for love, decency, and peace alongside the specter of loss. Yet the driving mystery here is not how sorrow hews us through time, but the resurgent heart’s ability to pass so much light from one generation to the next. This powerful book will imprint itself on readers.”
— Devin Murphy, national bestselling author of The Boat Runner
“Told in multiple voices and spanning generations, Abigail DeWitt’s News of Our Loved Ones is a novel of astounding beauty, empathy, and eloquence. ‘Most of the world will be too young to imagine that you ever really has a life,’ laments one character. But that is not the case: here is life. And here is a book that belongs on the shelf with Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française, Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, and all of our other great works of war and peace.”
— Mark Powell, author of Small Treasons
"Abigail DeWitt's News of Our Loved Ones is a story of old Europe, of a tumultuous time that shifted borders, loyalties, and family order. But it is also an enduring story of love, secrets, denial, and redemption. Each word she writes is imbued with beauty: what emerges is a delicate tableau of darkness and light; village dusks and impulsive chances. Above all, it's a story of a strong woman, a free woman, and her fractured memories. If Simone de Beauvoir were alive today, she would write like this."
— Janine Di Giovanni, author of The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria
“Lyrical and haunting.”
Harper Perennial, 9780062834744, 256pp.
Publication Date: December 30, 2019
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. The novel begins with an epigraph from Tim O’Brien: “To go home, one must become a refugee.” What is a proper definition of home? How is this paradoxical idea relevant to the experiences of the many characters throughout the novel?
2. Sensitive, teenaged Yvonne, in the midst of her physical hunger and her longing for a boy on a bicycle, believes that “pleasure and fear [are]…alike.” In what ways is this true?
3. Growing up in wartime imparts a very real awareness that “we might die today.” How does this profound knowledge affect Yvonne and other characters? Is there a way such threat could be valuable?
4. At seven years old, Geneviève is punished for being frightened when a woman is hit by a car. Her mother scolds her: “Fear is a form of selfishness.” What does this mean? To what extent is it true or not? Does this change in a time of war?
5. What psychological and behavioral effects do the deprivation and losses of the war have on the different characters when they are young and as they grow up?
6. Tante Chouchotte teaches literature and characters like Marie-Claire always have “a stack of books shoved under one arm.” What is the importance of books and literature during the war? What is the role of storytelling in life? What might it mean that “salvation depends on the right story”?
7. In what ways are Mathilde and her son Marcel different? Why are they so compelling to Marie-Claire? What might Mathilde’s exclamation that being in a snowstorm is “like being in the mind of a madman” suggest about her?
8. When Marie-Claire hears rumors of the French resistance movement she feels “an electrified awareness of the world.” What might this mean? What is its value? In what other ways might someone achieve such awareness?
9. Later in her life, Marie-Claire comes to believe that “we never know how other people suffer.” In what ways is this true or not? What are the limits of empathy? How is intimacy and connection achieved despite such limited understanding of another?
10. Mathilde’s father blames Mathilde for his sexual aggression toward her, making her feel that her “looks [give] off a kind of poison.” Much later, Polly tries to silently communicate to a young girl being groped by her father on the beach. Is there any difference between the way Mathilde’s father treats her in the 1920s and the way the unnamed father on the beach treats his daughter in 1976?
11. In general, what does the novel suggest about French and American attitudes toward gender and sex over the course of the 20th century?
12. Even “The Jew & the German,” which is about two men, is told from a girl’s point of view. What is the effect of the author’s decision to tell a war story exclusively through the eyes of women and girls?
13. Posing as a gentile painter, Dr. André Naquet, hearing of the arrest of his brother by the Germans, chooses to paint a picture of a marigold rather than flee. Why might he have done this? What is the role of art—personally or culturally—during times of war or oppression?
14. Thinking back on his resistance efforts, Dr. Naquet wonders, “What good is a single munitions train and a few lost pamphlets?” How were these efforts valuable despite his belief that he “made no dent in [the] war”?
15. Haunted by her survival, “memory floats through [Françoise] like ash.” How is this an apt simile? What is the healthiest way to respond to memories of trauma? What are the costs or benefits of forgetting?
16. Playing the violin literally saves Geneviève’s life. What might the role of music be in a good, healthy life?
17. After a single generation, the children of war survivors cannot fathom the profound suffering their relatives experienced. In what ways is it possible or not to teach new generations about the horrors of war?
18. Polly learns early to tell lies. Why is this? How is it of value? What’s the difference between a lie and a fictional story?
19. Polly experiences a powerful “language of dislocation.” What is this?
20. Staying with her aunts in France, Polly is told “nothing since the war is worth crying over.” In what ways is this absolute approach to suffering harmful?
21. The novel ends with Geneviève and Rémy lying in bed. Geneviève thinks, “it’s enough to feel your old body in my arms, my old body in yours.” In what ways is this valuable to them both? What else might be helpful, perhaps necessary, to heal from the traumas of war?