Nicole-Marie Handy has loved all things French since she was a child. After the death of her best friend, determined to get out of her rut, she goes to Paris, leaving behind a marriage proposal. While there, Nicole chances upon an old photo of her father-lovingly inscribed, in his hand, to a woman Nicole has never heard of. What starts as a vacation quickly becomes an investigation into his relationship to this mystery woman.
Moving back and forth in time between the sparkling Paris of today and the jazz-fueled city filled with expatriates in the 1950s, Passing Love is the story of two women dealing with lost love, secrets, and betrayal...and how the City of Light may hold all of the answers.
Nicole-Marie Handy has always longed to go to Paris, ever since she was a little girl and she found a blue French dictionary hidden in her parents bedroom.
Now she is in her late 50s, with a broken marriage behind her, has worked in the same job for years, her parents are aging and unwell, and she is involved in a relationship that is going nowhere. She had planned to travel to Paris with her friend, but when she dies from cancer, Nicole is determined to honour the deathbed promise that she made. " Be wild. Dance in the streets, take French lessons. Walk the wrong way home. Don't play it safe."
What she never expected was that this trip to Paris would end up leading to a search for her past. At first Nicole just enjoyed wandering the streets of the city that she has always loved from afar, but gradually she begins to connect with the people around her. One of those people is an antiques dealer and one day while she is in his shop a consignment comes in, and Nicole helps going through the boxes. Amongst the contents are a lot of jazz records and a book that contains a picture of someone very familiar - her father. How did a photo of her father end up hidden in a box in Paris? A phone call home leads to more questions than answers and the search is on for the truth. With the help of some new found friends, Nicole searches the past with surprising revelations that both change just about everything she knows about her family, but also reinforces the relationships that she had with them.
Interspersed within Nicole's chapters, we are taken back to the years immediately after World War II and we meet Ruby Mae Garrett, an impetuous 16 year old who also yearns for Paris. She meets a musician who she runs away with and finds herself working in lots of bars and music halls working towards their dream - Paris! Arnett is a saxophonist and he believes that if he can make it to Paris he can make it big, and all their problems will resolved. Most of all though, the dream is to live in a place where the colour of your skin doesn't matter, where there are no Jim Crow laws that mean you can never look a white person in the face, that you can only go to certain stores and restaurants, and can only ever enter through the doors marked 'Coloured'. The post war Paris might be difficult for other nationalities but for African Americans who come to stay after the war, it is a kind of nirvana.
Another reason for Arnett and Ruby Mae to make it work in Paris - the city is alive to the sound of jazz! Whilst I have read a lot of other books set in Paris, usually the focus is the experience of just being there or the food. This time it is the experience, but it is also the history of black jazz musicians who flocked to the city, and that history was quite fascinating!
Whilst the two story lines were interesting, as a whole book this didn't totally work for me. I liked Nicole and I really appreciated the fact that she was a mature woman who had made mistakes, who had lived, and who was ready to follow her dreams. Ruby Mae was harder for me to like. She definitely went after her dreams, but it was a single minded determination, at the expense of many people around her. There were quite a few times when I found myself thinking that the plot was travelling a familiar path and I knew where the story was going, but then there were other times when I was genuinely surprised at the turns in the plot.
I really liked that at the beginning of each of the contemporary chapters the author included a few French phrases that then connected with the events that occurred in the story. It is clear that the author loves Paris as a place. That loves shines through the descriptions of the places that she takes the reader, some of which are the familiar places to tourists and others a little more off the beaten track.
Regardless of the limitations, this book fed my own hunger to be in Paris, so that's good, right? Kind of.
Adapted from a review posted at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader. Thanks to the author and TLC book tours for the copy of the book that I received in exchange for an honest review.