Quick Take 2: “Valérie”

Early in the novel, a “Valérie” is mentioned by Isabelle during a lunch conversation in New York….

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 Valérie and Isabelle have known each other for some years:

“My good friend Valérie was born in Beirut. Her mother is French. …. We met at university in Paris. She is beautiful and so smart.”

As the story unfolds, details about Valérie’s background are progressively revealed. Her Parisian future grandparents had relocated to Beirut for her grandfather’s job, and in doing so naturally took along their daughter. In what was then sometimes referred to as “the Paris of the Middle East,” that daughter would meet and eventually marry Valérie’s eventual father, a well-to-do Lebanese Christian.

However, during the summer of 1975, Valérie’s life would be changed forever:

Early in Lebanon’s devastating civil war, she had been hustled out of the country along with her younger sister.

France much resembles the United States in its assimilation of newcomers. It has long attracted immigrants. Their descendants help make up the France of the present day.

Being half-French, Valérie is technically not an immigrant. But she finds herself at age five transplanted abruptly and unexpectedly to her mother’s home country. France will become her new home, and where she grows up…. to have friends now such as Isabelle, and Paris-resident, French-English couple, Stéphane and Natalie:

Holding a bottle of wine, she remarked softly to Stéphane, “How are you? I hope you like this.”

Laughing, as he accepted the bottle he broke into off-key song. “Ah, when our lovely Valériiiieeeeeeeee…. brings a lovely wine for meeeeeeeee….”

“Oh, God, no,” Natalie cringed. “Here we go!”

Valérie exhaled and smiled resignedly. “Ah, Stéphane. Shall I sing to you next?”

“Val,” Natalie pleaded with her laughingly as she walked into the kitchen, “just make him stop!”

Well-mannered, soft-spoken, and alluring, on first meeting her men often go weak at the knees. Yet to new acquaintances she may also come across as distant, and even arrogant. But once she feels more intimacy, a genuine warmth shines through.

Woman Silhouette with flags

And opinions may even come quietly bubbling to the surface:

From across the room, Valérie gripped her glass and smiled shrewdly [at James]. “Yes, but then it was much too late,” she countered. “Had you helped in 1975, we might have won.”

Ultimately, she is “two cultures” blending into an intriguing “third”: herself.

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