Almost True is the story of an extraordinary friendship among four women living in a small village in Burgundy during World War II. Madeleine, the eccentric village beauty, is a spinner of stories and dreams. Léa, the doctor’s daughter, is brave and resourceful. Simone, the outsider from Paris, has a secret of her own to hide, and the hardworking and practical Eugénie struggles to keep her vineyard alive. When Eugénie’s younger brother, the reckless and handsome Gaston, is suddenly missing, the village buzzes with rumour. All four women think they know the true story of Gaston’s fate, and each of them is wrong. But the truth will bind them together forever.
“Jan Rehner’s newest book presents a fairytale-like setting in its luring dreaminess and haunting darkness. We engage with clever Madeleine, emotionally volatile Simone, in-charge Lea, and sad Eugenie—four women who expose to us their brave truths through voices that sing against the backdrop of the gritty world of war. A story at once tantalizing and urgent, we journey along towards understanding, clarity, and eventual peace. Exquisitely written.”
— Jocelyn Cullity, author of Amah and the Silk-Winged Pigeons
“Almost True” is a beautifully written story about the intertwining lives of four young women living in France’s rural wine country during World War II. It is a book to be slowly savoured with images from nature used with a deft clarity to infuse depth into people’s characters and to enrich events. Every page is lightly graced by the land that surrounds these women. As the four main characters absorb various impacts of both the war and village life, they lose their innocence and find strong inner cores of compassion and courage. Events are perceived from four different perspectives, with each one being almost, but not quite, the whole truth. It is not until the end of the book where the various points of view marry together and a clear truth emerges. This insightful book is about the deep and loyal friendship between women who are forever bound together by dark secrets. Read this lovely book as you would drink a glass of fine wine, taking the time to taste the earth in the roots of the vines. I highly recommend it.”
—Sky Curtis, author of Flush: A Robin MacFarland Mystery
In the fall of 1942, while Léa tried to rescue Madeleine from her sorrow, Burgundy grew restless under the yoke of occupation. The German army was systematically stripping the country bare: wheat from the Île de France, vegetables and fish from Provence, apples from the orchards of Normandy, Charolais beef from Burgundy and, most of all, trainload after trainload of wine, thousands and thousands of bottles of wine.
The vignerons suffered a double loss; not only were their finest wines requisitioned to fill glasses across the Rhine, but their means of making new wines were severely reduced. Sugar for the wine was scarce. Egg whites, used to clarify the wine, were even scarcer. Chemical fertilizers were practically nonexistent and rations of insecticides were inadequate. At first, there was barely enough copper sulphate to combat mildew and fungal diseases, and then there was none. Germany needed copper and other metals for its war industry and soon soldiers were scouring homes and cellars for copper wire, pipes, pots and pans.
Once again, Madeleine asked awkward questions. If all the metal could be melted down to make guns and tanks and bullets, why couldn’t the guns and tanks be melted down again to make useful things? Oh Madeleine, her Mama said, which meant that would never happen. Madeleine thought men just didn’t want to do it. They seemed to want weapons more than anything. She knew she would never understand the extent to which men seemed to want to kill each other.
When September came, the villagers of Volnay turned out to help the farmers harvest their grapes. The shortages had taken their toll and the harvest was half what it had been in 1940, but the tradition, as rooted in the hearts of the people of Burgundy as the vines on the hillsides, was sacred.
The people of Volnay lived and died on the land. They fashioned their metaphors from the earth and the weather. The Germans were the blistering sun that dried the soil to dust, and also the cold wind that blew it away, but even they could not alter the laws of nature. The vines had no choice in the matter. The sun shone as it always had, the ancient roots dug deep for moisture, photosynthesis worked its magic, and the Boche could do nothing about it. The grapes were ready for harvesting.