Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062823311
Hardcover, $26.99, 372 pages
Often when I read books with dual timelines, one story is much more interesting to me than the other. Not so in the case of Ann Mah's novel, The Lost Vintage.
Kate is a sommelier living in San Francisco preparing to take the Test- an extremely difficult exam to be become a Master of Wine. She knows most of the wines that will be on the test, but she is weak in the area of French Burgundy, which is ironic since her family has owned a vineyard in the Burgundy region for generations.
She decides to go visit her cousin Nico and his wife Heather, where they run the run the family vineyard with her Uncle Philippe. Kate's mom left France years ago and has little to do with her family, something that bothers Kate as she does not know the reason why.
Heather and Kate take on the task of cleaning out the huge basement, filled with so much stuff it looks like an episode of Hoarders. While cleaning it out, Kate discovers that there is a hidden cellar filled with hundreds of bottles of wine hidden during the German occupation in WWII.
She also discovers that she had a great-aunt whom no one talked about- Helene. Uncle Philippe is tight-lipped about Helene, and doesn't want Kate and Heather asking any more questions about Helene or WWII.
Kate and Heather discover that Helene was accused of being a "horizontal collaborator", a woman who had sex with the German occupiers in exchange for better treatment by the soldiers. Helene was assaulted and shunned by the townspeople, and she died shortly after the war ended.
This information devastated Kate and Heather. Kate was ashamed that her relative could have done the things they accused her of. They look for Helene's journal to find out why she did what she did.
The reader has access to Helene's journal, and we see her beginnings as a young woman, interested in becoming a scientist before the war dashes her dreams. She and her father hide English soldiers and Jewish families in their hidden cellar, and Helene works for the Resistance. How does she end up a collaborator?
The Lost Vintage is a wonderfully written novel, and fans of The Nightingale and The Women In The Castle, will find this story just as interesting. Mah weaves these stories together seamlessly, and the tension as Helene works to help the Resistance and Kate searches for a missing bottle of a vintage wine that could save her family's vineyard from financial ruin ratchets up page by page. (And both stories are equally intriguing.)
My husband and I recently visited some old vineyards in the Chianti region of Italy, so I was endlessly fascinated by Mah's vivid descriptions of life as a wine maker. Her descriptions of the delicious meals eaten by Kate's family is heaven for people like me who enjoy "foodie fiction". (And I could live forever on what Nico calls "the three c's for dinner- charcuterie, cheese and crudites", with wine of course.)
If you enjoy traveling to another place in your books, reading The Lost Vintage will send you to the Burgundy region of France without ever leaving your home. I highly recommend it.