Publication date: August 13, 2019
Historical fiction has quickly become one of my favorite genres over the past year. With Outlander, Alex & Eliza, and All the Light We Cannot See, I was hungry for another story set in a time long ago. When my boyfriend’s grandmother initially told me about The Winemaker’s Wife, I wasn’t certain how interested I would be or what the writing would be like but upon my next visit, she handed me the book and I couldn’t refuse the very sweet gesture. Now, I’m secretly aching to talk about it with her.
Set in the beginning of World War II, The Winemaker’s Wife closely follows the story of three women and the impact each had in the others’ lives. Ines has shortly been married to Michael, the owner of the beautiful Maison Chauveau in Champagne, France, when the Germans leak into the nearby areas. Although Ines never felt quite right for the vineyard, she grows especially uncomfortable when her husband joins the resistance. Celine, the wife of Michael’s best friend and chef de cave Theo, is uncomfortable not taking part in the effort, especially once she fears for her life and the lives of her Jewish family. Seventy-nine years later, we are introduced to Liv, the granddaughter of Ines’s best friend. Struggling with infertility and divorce, her grandmother whisks her away to Champagne where she learns the darker secrets of the luscious countryside.
It’ll be difficult to discuss my favorite aspect of the book without giving away any spoilers, but I will say that the use of the three perspectives and the choice of those perspectives was pure art. The story, like any great tale, weaves together several relationships that at first appear to have nothing to do with the next. But the closer their relationships become with one another, the further their divide becomes.
Something that cannot go unmentioned is Harmel’s attention to detail and obvious strenuous research. There is not a historical stone left unturned. The French language and the war history is immersive–I learned what makes a good wine as well as what makes a good resistor. And with her vivid diction, I hardly realized I wasn’t in Champagne hiding wine in the cellars.
The story was highly unpredictable in the best way. While a twist such as what is adopted in the end of this story would seem like an unprecedented curveball in any other novel, when I reflected on the path to get to that twist, I realized it couldn’t have been any other way. Each turn is tight and clearly aligns with the sequence of events, but none are obvious to the entranced reader.
The Winemaker’s Wife is a heartbreaking look into the French winemakers of World War II. The story of Ines, Celine, and Liv was truly one to be told.