The Women of Chateau Lafayette

               “It’s amazing how women get lost in history,” says Stephanie Dray, the New York Times bestselling author of The Women of Chateau Lafayette.     “I want to tell their stories.”

At first, the story she was going to tell was that of  Beatrice Chanler, a success London actress with a troubled marriage  who received the Legion of Honor for her philanthropic service during World War.  But then Dray discovered a packet of love letters that were not between Chanler and her husband and she knew she would have to start all over.

               Ultimately, Dray would write the stories of two more women whose connection through the centuries was the French country chateau of the Marquis de La Fayette, one of the heroes of the American Revolution.  And each time, she would set that book aside as more details emerged.

               “Chateau is set in three time periods–during the French Revolution, World War One, and World War Two,” says Dray whose previous books include “My Dear Hamilton,”

               In each period, there was an extraordinary woman who rose to the occasion. The first was Adrienne Lafayette, the wife of the Marquis de Lafayette. More than a spouse, she was her husband’s political partner and, like him, faced the danger of the guillotine during the  French Revolution. The third woman is Marthe Simone, a teacher and writer, who at first wanted to avoid any activities that could put her at risk from the Nazis during World War II but then becomes an active participant in helping hide Jewish children at the chateau.

            “She, like the other two women, deserved to have her own book,” says Dray. “But then I saw the importance of telling all their stories in one novel. I was a government major in college and then I went to law school, but I was really only a lawyer for ten minutes.  But I’ve always been interested in government as people, this story is about the rise of the republic and the continued survival of the public.”

            Writing about the Chateau Lafayette became so much a part of Dray’s every day living that when she saw the castle for the first time she was so nervous she had to have her husband hold the camera.

            “All the video I took is very shaky,” she says.

            Indeed, she becomes so immersed in her stories that when she was writing “America’s First Daughter,” she found herself speaking with a southern accent. That passion is evident in one of the take-aways she hopes readers get from reading The Women of Chateau Lafayette.

            “The Franco-American alliance saved this country three times over,” says Dray. “This book is relevant to those in powdered wigs and those today.”

Virtual event with Stephanie Dray.

When: April 3 at noon

What: Barbara’s Bookstore with Stephanie Dray in virtual conversation with Lauren Margolin “The Good Book Fairy” blogger.

To Register: https://barbarasbookstores.com/event/stephanie-dray/

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">FYI: The event is free. All registrants receive 10% off book purchase with code ‘EVENT’FYI: The event is free. All registrants receive 10% off book purchase with code ‘EVENT’

New mystery explores New York in the 1910s and 1990s

Deborah Feingold Photography

Patience and Fortitude, the marble lions gallantly standing at the steps of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan, were only 2 years old when Jack Lyons, along with his wife and two children, moves into a large apartment hidden away on the library’s mezzanine floor. It’s all part of Jack’s job as superintendent, an intriguing fact that Fiona Davis uses in her latest historical mystery, “The Lions of Fifth Avenue,” which was selected as “Good Morning America’s” August Book Pick.

“While researching, I discovered that when the library was built, the architects included a seven-room apartment deep inside, where the superintendent and his family lived for 30 years. I thought it would be the perfect setting for my book and I invented a fictional family — the Lyons — and decided to tell the story from the wife’s point of view in 1913, as well as from her granddaughter’s in 1993,” said Davis, who chose 1913 because that decade was when women made great strides, socially and economically. “What surprised me about the 1910s was just how actively women were involved in feminist causes, including the right to vote, the right to birth control, and the right to exert agency over their own lives. There was a huge movement forward in terms of the ‘New Woman,’ one who considered herself equal to men.”

Living in the library creates an opportunity for Jack’s wife Laura, who yearns to be more than a housewife, and is mentored by Jack’s boss, who encourages her to find her own writing voice and helps her win entry to the Columbia School of Journalism. But Laura soon learns that she doesn’t want to be relegated to writing housewife-like features for the women’s section as expected, and instead becomes a noted essayist and crusader for women’s rights.

“It was wonderful to step back in time and imagine what it all was like then,” said Davis, noting that both she and Laura attended Columbia. “I earned my master’s degree there, so it was fun to draw on that experience.”

Fast forward 80 years in time to when Laura’s granddaughter, Sadie Donovan, a curator at the New York Public Library, is chosen to step in at the last moment to curate the Berg Collection of rare books. Among the rare papers are those of Laura Lyons, who had been forgotten over time, but whose writings are now being celebrated again.

At first proud of her connection to her grandmother and excited that Laura once lived at the library where she now works, Sadie hides their connection after discovering her grandmother and grandfather were caught up in a scandal about a rare book of Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry, typically stored under lock and key, that’s gone missing.

Before long, history is repeating itself when Sadie finds that vital materials about her grandmother are also missing, and only a few people had the opportunity to take them, including Sadie herself. Soon Sadie, already shattered by her husband’s infidelity and the couple’s ultimate divorce, is the prime suspect of the theft. Her reputation is on the line as is her grandmother’s and solving the mystery is the only way to redeem them.

How Quickly She Disappears

            Intrigued by the tales his grandparents told of living in Tanacross, a small Alaskan village back in the late 1930s, Indiana author Raymond Fleischmann has woven a mystery set in that time frame and location.

            “I grew up hearing their stories about Alaska, the cold, the isolation, the long days and the long nights,” says Fleischmann, the author of the just released How Quickly She Disappears.  “So, the setting is very real though my characters are fictional and not based on my grandparents at all who were very much in love and married for over 60 years.”

            That part is probably good as Fleischmann’s novel is about Elisabeth Pfautz who is living in Alaska with her husband and young daughter. The marriage is joyless, but her daughter is her delight and, more forebodingly, a reminder and connection with her twin sister, Jacqueline, who when she was eleven, disappeared. No one has seen or knows what happened to her since then.

              Haunted by her lost sister, experiencing reoccurring dreams of 1921 and the circumstances of the disappearance and saddened by the state of her marriage, Elisabeth is drawn to Alfred, a substitute mail pilot who lands in Tanacross. Elisabeth, who grew up a small German community in Pennsylvania, feels a kinship of sorts with Alfred, who is also of German heritage. But then things turn distinctly weird and terrifying. Albert murders another man, apparently in cold blood. But he also knows, he tells Elisabeth, what happened to her sister, something he will reveal to her at a cost.

            Fleischmann says he’s always been drawn to novels that are propelled by relatively simple, often violent acts, but do so in a way that’s careful, human, and deeply examined. From Alaska in 1941, Fleischmann takes us back to 1921 where we meet Jacqueline as well.

            “I thought it was important for people to know about her as well,” says Fleischmann, who earned an MFA from Ohio State University, “To me, at the time of her disappearance, Jacqueline is a lonely and somewhat stunted child who is having difficulty navigating the transition from adolescent to adult, just like many of us. So is Elisabeth and Jacqueline’s disappearance has left a big void in her life. As an adult she still feels very much alone without her sister and appears to suffer in many dysfunctional ways.”

            All this makes her vulnerable to Alfred’s cat and mouse game as does the voice she seems to hear, that of Jacqueline urging her to “come and find me.”

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