Odette's Secrets- For Jews in Nazi-occupied Paris, nowhere is safe. So when Odette Meyer’s father is sent to a Nazi work camp, Odette’s mother takes desperate measures to protect her, sending Odette deep into the French countryside. There, Odette pretends to be a peasant girl, even posing as a Christian–and attending Catholic masses–with other children. But inside, she is burning with secrets, and when the war ends Odette must figure out whether she can resume life in Paris as a Jew, or if she’s lost the connection to her former life forever. Inspired by the life of the real Odette Meyer, this moving free-verse novel is a story of triumph over adversity. (Goodreads)
Interview for The Write Path with Maryann Macdonald, author of ODETTE’S SECRETS
One late August afternoon a few years ago, I was walking around the old Jewish neighborhood of the Marais in Paris with my husband. We passed an elementary school with a bronze plaque. The plaque honored the memory of the Jewish children, students at the school, who had been deported from France during WWII. I kept thinking about those children…who were they? What were their lives like in France during the war?
I began reading about life in Paris during World War II, especially about the life of French Jews. I learned that 11,400 children were deported. Most of these died. But more children survived in France than in any other European country. They were hidden in homes, convents, monasteries, farms and schools all over the country. To stay successfully hidden, these children had to “reinvent” themselves, to become French Christian children. How in the world had they been able to do this, I wondered? And what was it like for them to readjust to reality after the war?
In October, I was still thinking over these questions when I was invited to the American Library in Paris to read my book, The Costume Copycat, at the library’s annual Halloween party. After all the pirates and princesses went home, I went upstairs to browse in the stacks. And there, by chance, I found Doors to Madame Marie, the autobiography of Odette Meyers, a woman who had been one of those hidden French children during the war.
I became fascinated by Odette’s story, and one night I shared it with my husband. Together we went to the 11th arrondissement, to stand in front of the building where Odette had lived. “I so wish we could go inside!” I said, looking at the heavy oak door at the front of the building, a solid street door of the type that is always locked.
“Let’s see if we can,” my husband said, and pressed his fingertips against the door. It swung open! In moments we were standing in the tiled hallway where Odette played with her red rubber ball. At the end was the tiny apartment of her godmother, Madame Marie, the place where Odette and her mother hid in the broom closet when the police came at dawn to arrest them. The opening of that door seemed like a sign to me…I just had to write the story of Odette’s remarkable childhood for today’s children.
Was it a hard, emotional journey?
On the contrary, I was inspired by Odette’s story and loved it. I spent years working on it, trying to get all the details as accurate as possible, for although Odette’s Secrets is classed as historical fiction, it is based very closely on a true story. Odette and her family and friends, nearly all of whom have all since long passed away, were real to me and I wanted to do justice to them and their struggles and courage.
What do you hope your readers will come away with after reading Odette’s Secrets?
My hope is that my readers will learn about the importance of resilience, the security one can find in family and community, and last but not least, the value of developing and using one’s conscience in meeting the challenges we all encounter in life.
*photo credit- Stefan Falke
*photo credit- Stefan Falke