From the Winner of The Betty Trask Prize
What a stunningly gorgeous book I have for you all today….
Let Us Be True, by Alex Christofi, ‘charts the lives of two extraordinary characters through an era of great uncertainty, from the war and its aftermath through to the deadly unrest of 1960s Paris.’
Just published by Serpent’s Tail, I was thrilled to have joined the blog tour recently with an extract which you can read HERE.
I received a beautiful hardback copy from the publisher and today I bring you my voluntary and unbiased review.
Ralf is alone, filling his days with glasses of red wine at Jacques’ bar, waiting for life to happen to him. Then, one night, Elsa – bold, enigmatic, unpredictable – whirls into Jacques’ bar and into Ralf’s world, knocking him out of his cautious routine and into a life full of spontaneity and excitement.
But Elsa is hiding something. As Ralf falls deeper in love, he reveals more of his past – his childhood in Nazi Germany, his time in a British tank division at the end of the Second World War. But what is Elsa hiding? And can their love survive it?
Let Us Be True charts the lives of these two extraordinary characters through an era of great uncertainty, from the war and its aftermath through to the deadly unrest of 1960s Paris.
Evocative, charismatic and sweeping in scope, Alex Christofi’s second novel is a moving story of love and loss, of the things we hide from ourselves and from others, and of the personal cost of Europe’s turbulent twentieth century.
Elsa and Ralf.
Two people whose paths cross accidentally, but whose lives will forever be entwined…
Let Us Be True is their story…
Ralf, born in Hamburg, fled to the UK with his mother and fought during the war on the British side. During demobilisation, Ralf made a decision ‘when the time came to board his train for England, he remained on the platform. England and Germany seemed, however unfairly, part of the grey continuum of sadness and arbitrary cruelty, whereas Paris was a city of possibility, glimpsed from a train window, standing near whole among the ruins of Europe.’
Ralf settled well enough in Paris enjoying the daily chats with the local people. He lived a very simple life in academia, making occasional friendships but he never found true love. His father had passed away tragically when he was younger and this event remained heavy in his heart at all times. With just his mother now living in the UK, Ralf never really felt the desire to return.
Elsa is rather an unusual character. Also born in Germany, Elsa lived through quite a formidable youth, where the rules of Hitler were strictly adhered to. After the war ended, Elsa saw an opportunity to escape the hardship and relocated to Paris. Elsa is quite an elusive character. As a reader, it’s very difficult to get inside her head, making her a bit of an enigma. She is very protective of her past yet Ralf is an open book.
A chance meeting of the two of them in a Parisian bar sees the beginning of something very special, something very fragile.
Let Us Be True is an historical document in many ways. Paris, after the war was a place where many refugees of all nationalities took refuge and it is among these that Ralf finds himself in the company of. One of his friends, Fouad, is an immigrant who left Algiers in search of a better life for himself and his wife, Fatima.
‘I became aware of a certain distant planet called France. They were our invaders, our oppressors, yes, but we used their own language to curse them, the only language they spoke. And while I heard about the daily injustices we all suffered, the experience on my doorstep was that the French brought money… 1945…people really thought France must now understand. We had won victory over Germany together, we had fought together for liberation’
But, as history shows us to be the case, trouble was imminent on the streets of Paris, as the Algerians demonstrated for their independence. The city was in turmoil and Alex Christofi gives the reader an insight into this disturbing time in French history.
In parallel with this, Ralf and Elsa’s story continues.
Their relationship is fraught with difficulty from the beginning. Elsa flits in and out of Ralf’s life, yet he wants more from her. He envisions a life where they both grow old together with their children to accompany them into their senior years. He dreams of a life that neither of them seem able to grasp.
Elsa and Ralf, both uprooted from their homeland, are refugees in Paris. There is a feeling of loss always present in their lives. As Ralf attempts to find out more about Elsa, he makes a decision that would reverberate through the rest of their lives.
Let Us Be True is an exquisite novel, both inside and outside.
Alex Christofi writes with magic in his words. His love for the city of Paris is evident in the obvious research that went into every page. I was completely transported to another world. I have read and loved Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels and this captivating book, Let Us Be True, reminds me very much of how I felt on completing them….bereft yet hopeful.
In the words of Ralf..
‘How rare and lucky it was to have felt joy and pain, fear and love, to have eyes that could know the shape of everything along an unbroken line, ears that could read the ripples of particles miles away, and to able to express it to one another, and to create a new life together.’
An enthralling novel that I highly recommend…..just beautiful..
Purchase Link ~ Let Us Be True
About the Author:
Alex Christofi was born in Dorset and read English at Oxford University. As well as working as an editor, he writes occasional essays and reviews.
His first novel Glass, also published by Serpent’s Tail, was longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize and won the Betty Trask Prize.
Website ~ https://alexchristofi.com/
Twitter ~ @alex_christofi