August 25 of this year marked 75 years of the liberation of Paris from the Nazis. In honor of this historic event, I am posting a review of the novel Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin. The story is based on the real lives of Blanche and Claude Auzello, an American woman and her French husband. Together they managed the Ritz, Paris’ world-famous hotel. They hosted many notable people of the time, including Earnest Hemingway, Coco Channel, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. They were living the good life until the Nazis took over the city. Then the Auzello’s were forced to follow their orders and make them comfortable while fearing for their lives if they did not comply. However, in secret, they helped the Resistance at every opportunity. Below is my review:
Mistress of the Ritz was an engrossing book based on the lives of the Frenchman Claude Auzello and his American wife, Blanche. Claude ran the famous Paris hotel, the Ritz, during World War II. The Ritz was the last name in luxury, and famous people frequently stayed there. Author Melanie Benjamin captures the opulence of the hotel amidst the horrors of the war. Claude and Blanche had a difficult marriage-Claude was unfaithful and they kept secrets from each other as they struggled to survive the war years and waited for the Allies to liberate the country from Nazi occupation.
The writing is extraordinary and the reader cannot help but get lost in this story of the Nazis taking over the hotel, the Resistance’s covert operations to undermine them, and Blanche and Claude’s efforts to deal with each other as well as the German invasion. Benjamin portrays the darkness and hardship of the occupation vividly. The reader cannot help but be terrified for the Jewish families who disappear in the middle of the night. With the exception of the collaborators, the French hate the Nazis but must be subservient to them if they want to stay alive.
Toward the end of the story, the author reveals the biggest secret of all, but I figured it out because Benjamin alluded to it often enough. The ending was shocking and leaves readers with many questions. Recommended.