The Winemaker's Wife by Kristin Harmel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What a story. It’s both complex, yet simple and embodies the feelings, ideas and fears of people, and how they vary in extreme situations (in this case WWII). You may be thinking, another WWII book; let me assure you there are thousands of WWII stories that are all very different and worth telling. Kristin Harmel tells one of them here.
During great adversity we are reminded of what the essentials are for human beings; and what are great luxuries. The Nazi's were obsessed with ensuring they received all the luxuries; even so far as to remove paintings from museums and galleries. Here we see this greed and selfishness shown in their desire for good champagne. And this in turn offers our characters (including one with Jewish connections) protection, of sorts. The problem with protection during an adverse time like this is the enemy is not playing fair. And so, of course, the Nazi's take advantage of their advantageous position by demanding, threatening, and belittling our characters.
One of the most interesting pieces of The Winemaker's Wife is that our characters making the wine can choose to make it sub-par. They know how to tweak it to make it amazing; and how to spoil it just a little. We see them scheme, along with fellow champagne makers, to trick the Nazi's into thinking they are receiving the best product; whilst preserving the actual best product for the future. It's dangerous, but clever.
How It's Made
Making champagne (or wine) is such an interesting process. I loved learning about it throughout this story. With a bit less detail, Kristin Harmel takes us though the process of making wine much like Lisa See did in The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. What's cool about learning about creation or farming processes like this via fiction is that it's far less boring (at least to me) than reading a non-fiction novel. You also get to see the impact things like weather, harvest delays, machinery breaking, etc. has directly on the process and people involved. The Winemaker's Wife is the next best thing to actually going out and making champagne in France yourself.
Lust and Sex
If you ever wanted to encounter a love-square/rectangle this is your book. Harmel gives our characters lusts for one another that make their lives a lot more complex than they needed to be (in an already complex time). That said it is what ultimately allows for our grand finale to be so stunning. Don't be surprised that there is a lot of sleeping around in this story. Scenes are all written tastefully, this is not smut and not really even romance; it's just a part of the story that affects people's interactions and motivations.
I really enjoyed The Winemaker's Wife. Harmel brings us a WWII story that is unlike any other I've read. The scheming between characters (even those who are working together) is brilliant and the complexities of scamming the Nazi's are well explained. While not my favourite WWII fiction, this novel deserves to be on a shelf alongside most other recent WWII fiction. If you enjoy these types of stories about people persevering and surviving in war times then you won't be disappointed.
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
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