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*****= An all-time favorite
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****Five Quarters of the Orange

by Joanne Harris

Reviewed April 6, 2002.
A Sonderbooks' Best Book of 2002 (#4, Fiction)
William Morrow, 2001.  307 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (F HAR).

I read Joanne Harris’s first book, Chocolat, a year ago when driving through the French countryside on the way to Paris.  We had decided to try taking smaller roads instead of paying tolls, and wound up and down hills and through little villages.  In Paris, we found a small and exquisite chocolate shop, with fabulous chocolate, as well as the most delectable caramels I have ever eaten in my life.

I connect all these memories, sights and tastes with Joanne Harris’s book.  Is it any wonder, then, that Five Quarters of the Orange transported me instantly into France?

Joanne Harris is half French, half British.  She writes about France, including amazing French cooking, which she describes in a way that sets your mouth watering.

Her books are quirky and disturbing.  You couldn’t really describe the families in them as “functional.”  I found this one strangely satisfying.  It was masterfully crafted and pulled me into the story immediately. 

Half of the setting is the present, but the narrator also weaves in the story of her childhood in the Loire Valley during World War II.  As a migraine sufferer myself, I read with sympathy about Framboise’s mother, who smelled oranges every time a headache was coming on.  Framboise devises a clever way to divert her mother’s attention and escape with her brother and sister to rendezvous with a fascinating German soldier.  She takes an orange peel and hides it under the stove where its smell will fill the kitchen.  Of course her mother believes a headache is coming on, and goes after her morphine.  Already, I was captivated with sympathy and fascination.

In the present, Framboise’s nephew and his wife are trying to discover a dreadful secret from the war years.  Framboise has returned to the house she grew up in, but for some reason she hasn’t told anyone in the village that she was the child who played there.  The author skilfully weaves together the threads that led to a dreadful conclusion in the past--and gives Framboise a chance to redeem herself in the present.

Reviews of other books by Joanne Harris:
Holy Fools

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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