Nothing bad can happen at the Ritz; inside its gilded walls every woman looks beautiful, every man appears witty. The Auzellos are the mistress and master of the Ritz, allowing the glamour and glitz to take their minds off their troubled marriage, and off the secrets that they keep from their guests–and each other.
Until June 1940, when the German army sweeps into Paris, setting up headquarters at the Ritz. Suddenly, with the likes of Hermann Goring moving into suites once occupied by royalty, Blanche and Claude must navigate a terrifying new reality. One that entails even more secrets. One that may destroy the tempestuous marriage between this beautiful, reckless American and her very proper Frenchman. For the falsehoods they tell to survive, and to strike a blow against their Nazi “guests,” spin a web of deceit that ensnares everything and everyone they cherish.
But one secret is shared between Blanche and Claude alone–the secret that, in the end, threatens to imperil both of their lives, and to bring down the legendary Ritz itself.
Based on true events, Mistress of the Ritz is a taut tale of suspense wrapped up in a love story for the ages, the inspiring story of a woman and a man who discover the best in each other amid the turbulence of war.
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Mistress of the Ritz is inspired by a true story. In the afterword, author Melanie Benjamin discusses her research of Claude and Blanche, pointing out that both were extremely reticent to discuss the war years in the time after, and there is little primary research on either. As such, many aspects of this book could be taken as creative license, although she does address the main facts she used to build the story, something I always appreciate an author doing in a historical novel.
I listened to the audiobook version which is 12 hours, 17 minutes in length and narrated by Barbara Rosenblat. I did find the narrator’s voice slightly annoying, especially her portrayal of Blanche’s brash accent. However, the accent was probably accurate as to what Blanche’s own accent sound like, because there are pieces of her past she hides from the reader until the end, although I guessed at them just from the accent the narrator utilized.
Blanche comes across as too stupid to live at certain times, and I certainly see how she gets into trouble at that one pivotal point in the book. This does appear to be based on fact although exactly what happened in the restaurant is a mystery. I wonder how those who knew Blanche would feel about this depiction of her, as a flighty, childish, petulant border-line alcoholic. It certainly isn’t the most flattering, but there is no denying the heroic efforts both Blanche and Claude took to undermine Nazi occupation of Paris.
Blanche and Claude have a troubled marriage, that might even be classified as toxic. The deeper into the book I read, the more this became apparent to me. And yet, their reunion and new-found respect, love and appreciation for each other during the liberation of Paris shows that any relationship can be repaired given commitment and perspective.
I regret that their story isn’t more widely known, and that there isn’t enough concrete evidence to draw a more illustrative picture of their lives and war efforts, but I did thoroughly enjoy listening to Benjamin’s accounting. I was able to get through this audiobook in two days, while painting a bedroom and find myself missing Blanche and Claude a little bit.
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