The mark of the angel Paperback – 1999
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From Nancy Huston, a Canadian writer who's lived in France for a couple of decades, comes a modest proposal in the form of a novel: Maybe millennial fiction shouldn't look forward. Maybe it should look back to the shames and sadnesses of the 20th century. The Mark of the Angel, Huston's U.S. debut and a bestseller in France, tells the story of Saffie, a young German girl who takes a job as a housekeeper in 1957 Paris. Her employer, a brilliant young flautist named Raphael, falls hard for her, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that he finds her "impassive" and "impenetrable." Hard-eyed Saffie seems to sleepwalk through life, and as if in a dream, she and Raphael marry and have a son, Emil. When Raphael sends her off to have his flute repaired one day, he little suspects what he's setting in motion. In András, the instrument maker, Saffie finds a damaged twin. Both are victims of the horrible experiment of Hitler's war: German Saffie has endured not only rape and torture but also the knowledge of her own family's Nazi sympathies. Hungarian Jew András has lost his family and his country. The two embody the horrors that Europeans visited on each other in the middle of the 20th century. And they covertly embark on a five-year affair, during which their love comes to be sorely tested by the Algerian war for independence from France.
Huston's prose is cool, opaque, ironic, and intensely romantic. Her style and her story both owe a great debt to Milan Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being, a debt she seems to acknowledge explicitly: "Saffie is crushed, stifled, petrified by the... how to put it... the unbearable tenuousness of the moment... Dizzy with inexistence, she clutches at András's arm--and he, misunderstanding, sets Emil down in a chair on the café terrace--turns to his lover--takes her in his arms and begins to waltz with her... Ah! Thanks to András, the hideous unreality of the world has been held at bay once again, movement has turned back into true movement, instead of immobility in disguise." Kundera's preoccupation with Nietzsche's concept of the eternal return is clearly at work here too: The past, Huston warns us loud and clear, is never past. --Claire Dederer --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Drenched in irony, and very French in sensibility, Huston's U.S. debut must overcome an unfortunate beginning before it gallops away with the reader's mesmerized attentionAbut once underway, it fascinates with its blend of cynicism and romance, and its dramatization of the roles of accident and fate, and of evil and injustice, in human history. Initially, one must accept a far-fetched plot: that when world-famous flutist Raphael Lepage sees Saffie, the young German woman who answers an ad for a maid to clean his luxurious Paris apartment, he immediately succumbs to overwhelming love and soon afterward marries herAdespite the fact that she is as emotionless as a zombie, does not even remotely return his affections and is anathema to his beloved mother, who has never forgiven the Nazi occupation 20 years before. Even the birth of a son does not thaw Saffie's cold indifference, which persists until she meets Andr s, a Hungarian-Jewish refugee who repairs musical instruments; the mutual recognition of irresistible passion releases all her emotions. During their liaisons in his little shop in the Marais, Andr s tells Saffie about the destruction of his family in Budapest, and she reveals her own traumatic memories of WWIIAthe Allied bombings, her father's complicity with the campaign of annihilation, her mother's brutal rape by conquering Russian soldiers. Even as their affair unfolds, however, the horrifying events of the 1940s are being repeated in Algeria and France, as FLN terrorists strike back at French atrocities. In the end, innocence must die, as, Huston reminds us, it always has and always will. While Huston often overwrites and sometimes indulges in arch asides, once she establishes her story's central ironies, the narrative achieves a relentless velocity. A scene in which both Saffie and Andr s recall separate incidents in which poorly buried bodies erupt through the earth, drenching the soil with blood, is a shattering reminder of the endless cycle of human violence. Canadian-born Huston has lived in France for more than three decades, where her books (seven novels plus nonfiction works) are bestsellers. BOMC and QPB selections; paperback rights to Vintage. (Oct.) FYI: The Mark of an Angel won the French Prix des Lectrices d'ELLE and the Prix des Librairies in Canada, and is shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt in France. Huston's other awards include the Prix Contrepoint, the Prix Goncourt Lyceen and the Canadian Governor General's Award in French.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
The seemingly simple style of this story could make some readers believe that it's just a 'pulp romance' novel -- there are, however, layers of psychological levels to the characters and a complexity in the way setting and storyline are entwined together that make this novel far from being simplistic or a 'pulp romance' novel. Saffie, the female protagonist, is a difficult character to read -- and agreeably unpleasant at times -- and that's why makes the story even more intriguing; we are not dealing with nice and 'normal' cardboard cut-out characters, where everything is beautiful and everyone holds hands at the end of the story.
This book is not a lovely love story, but a character study on how war tears down the fabric of human nature, how it effects everyone for years to come, even for genertations to come -- it a story about confusion, betrayal, jealousy and revenge. Nancy Huston has done a wonderful at showing how difficult it can be to deal with the world around us, and how sometimes human behaviour can be misinterpreted by those who live in a protected world.
'The Mark of the Angel' is a disturbing tale of passion and survival, which makes the reader reflect on the humand condition long after the book has been read. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
The story line here is quite simple. Woman marries man for wrong reasons. Woman then meets man who fulfills inner needs and falls in love. Woman has child with husband but remains in love with the man she has met. Man finds out. Man kills child and everyones life is ruined.
But that is not what this book is really about. It is about the incredible inner struggles that these characters go through, the unspeakable horrors of the wars in Europe and the unexplainable things that humans do to each other.
Main character Saffie acts a bit strange at first. But we understand why when we learn what she has experienced. Same for her lover Andras. I personally struggled with what these people had seen. I became introsepctive and self critical as I pondered on the lives of those who lived through the Holocaust and Algerian cleansing periods.
Well written and fast moving, Huston has done a great job in displaying emotion and courage. Read this book to learn a little about these characters and a lot about yourself.
She may be right. I burned through this book. I stayed in on a picture perfect Sydney day to read it while images of the degeneration in Israel/Palestine flash on the TV screen. A theme of the book is that all the tragedies and happinesses have happened to someone before and that they will happen again is at once liberating and depressing. The book succeeds on 2 fronts. Love and political conflict.
It captures the dynamics of the hopes and expectations we bring to new loves and relationships with some candour but not too cynically.
And, it describes with surgical precision how political conflicts escalate and polarise. How the victims carry emotional baggage. How we fight the last war over and over.
Wonderful imagery without pretension or self indulgence. The ending built up so that I was tense as I flew through the later pages.
I also learned more about recent French history than I knew before. Kind of useful in understanding how the world works.
Most recent customer reviews
A story of forbidden love in post-war Paris between two people damaged in different ways by the Holocaust--you've read it before. Read morePublished on Jan. 10 2002 by J. Marren
If you are someone who enjoys inteligent, interesting, believable naratives... If you are a fan of Alice Hoffman, Ursula Hegi, Jane Hamilton, Rebecca Wells... Read morePublished on April 16 2001
What beautiful and unique writing! Nancy Huston is a great French-Canadian writer whose work I will be looking forward to reading in the future. Read morePublished on Jan. 23 2001 by CoffeeGurl
I read this book with great interest, and was quite moved and captivated. The book starts and ends grimly, but there is no other hope for Saffie, as we learn of her past. Read morePublished on Nov. 27 2000 by Melinda Lucas
The structure and style of this novel are engaging and effective. The interjections of the narrator force the reader to focus not only on Saffie's story, but to pull back from... Read morePublished on Oct. 16 2000 by K. Denny
I guess my main problem with this novel was the main character, Saffie. She was too psychotic to appreciate. Read morePublished on Oct. 12 2000
I hadn't intended to read this book, even though it kept popping up on my recommendations list. A coworker brought it to me, however, with lots of praise, and I wasn't... Read morePublished on Oct. 5 2000 by Jody M. Keene