‘You may look like a swan, but if you talk like a sparrow, who will take you seriously? Welcome, Miss Vaughan’
I was lucky enough to receive my copy of The Dressmaker of Dachau from Harper Collins. It is written by Mary Chamberlain and published in 2015 by The Borough Press, an imprint of Harper Collins.
My review is as ever my own opinion and most importantly, an honest one. I do hope you enjoy.
‘London, spring 1939. Ada Vaughan is a young and ambitious seamstress. Desperate to escape from her working-class home and blind to the warnings of war on the continent, she elopes with her lover to Paris.
But when war is declared they become trapped. He abandons her, pregnant & vulnerable.
Taken prisoner and sent to Germany as slave labour, Ada is forced to survive on her wits alone, using her dressmaking skills to win favour with her captors.
It is a decision which will haunt her during the war and its devastating aftermath.’
The Dressmaker of Dachau has been on my horizon of books to read for quite some time. I guess the name struck a chord with me as I myself have an interest in sewing, my mother was a dressmaker and I just felt it was one of those books I wanted to read.
In the book, Mary Chamberlain introduces us to Ada Vaughan. Brought up in the back streets of London, Ada is extremely ambitious. She is very lucky to get a position within a dressmaking establishment and quickly learns her trade. Ada dreams of Haute Couture and the Parisian Ateliers.
‘Distinctive style. A signature, she thought, that’s the word. Like Chanel. A signature, something that would mark out the House of Vaughan.’
Ada, ambitious to the extreme, is never short of admirers but she is quickly fooled by a ‘gentleman’ and departs for Paris with him just before war breaks out.
Trapped in Paris, they make a run for Belgium. Ada, though slightly worried about her lover’s state of mind, remains with him and completely puts her trust and faith in him. Alas, this is to be her downfall.
Ada tries to hide and does receive limited protection from a convent but not enough. She is captured by German soldiers and so begins a journey for Ada that seemed so distant when she ran away to Paris.
Ada is forced into slave labour in Dachau. Her saving grace is her ability to sew. She is imprisoned in the home of a high ranking official and established as a dressmaker to the women of the German officers.
Ada, lives in a world of black and white. There is no colour, except for the fabric she gets to touch, to feel. She is treated like dirt, like an animal but she still produces beautiful garments and it isn’t long before word spreads.
‘This was slave labour, she knew – but at least she was sewing, was creating. A modiste. Perhaps when the war was over, if it was ever over, she’d go to Paris again. She’d have experience after all. She didn’t have to say where she got it. House of Vaughan……She must hope…she wouldn’t lose this.’
Ada’s years in Dachau are tough. She survives thinking her ordeal is over. She expects to return to the bosom of her family in London. But for Ada, her war isn’t over yet.
The Dressmaker of Dachau will tear at your heartstrings. Mary Chamberlain depicts Ada beautifully. She is a young girl with hopes and dreams. The future is something she sees for herself as clear as day. She belongs in Paris and that is where she will be.
The war has a detrimental effect on Ada’s dreams, as it did on many a person at the time. Mary Chamberlain’s description of the direction Ada’s life takes after her return is portrayed with such realism, it is heartbreaking.
I would definitely recommend this book for any fan of historical fiction. It is a truly beautiful read and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
About the Author:
Mary Chamberlain has lived and worked in England and the Caribbean, and is Emeritus Professor of History at Oxford Brookes University.
Her book, Fenwomen, was the first to be published by Virago Press in 1975. Since then she has written many books on women’s history, oral history and Caribbean history.
She is a graduate of the acclaimed Creative Writing MA at Royal Holloway, University of London and now lives in London with her husband.