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Captivating Tales of Love Amid War and Peace - an Editorial Review of "Number 12 Rue Sainte-Catherine and Other Stories"

Number 12 Rue Sainte Catherine and Other Stories book cover

Book Blurb:

Though unexceptional in every way, Klaus Barbie, a mid-level Gestapo chief, ruled Lyon, France, like a medieval tyrant from 1942-44. Crowds parted to let him pass; a table was permanently reserved for him at Le Lapin Blanc, Lyon’s raciest nightclub; and pretty young women slipped him notes inscribed with their phone numbers. But his glory days represented only a thin slice of his life. What prepared him for his role as the so-called Butcher of Lyon, and what became of him after the war ended? In an attempt to answer these and other questions, this collection of nine wide-ranging and skillfully written stories presents Barbie in a variety of guises, from that of a vulnerable young boy, to a preening young man on the make, to an enfeebled old man forced to confront his crimes forty years after the fact. Though wars and their excesses flare up and die down, evil is always with us, promising a god-like dominion over others that seduces those who are weakest. This book is a reminder of that.

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Editorial Review:

"Number 12 Rue de Saint Catherine and Other Stories" by Roberta Hartling Gates is a

collection of captivating tales that explore complex themes such as love, suffering, and hope

in times of war and peace. Gates skillfully blends historical details with intimate narratives,

creating stories that not only engage readers but also offer them a profound perspective on

life and the human condition.

One of the notable stories in this collection is "Mama’s Boy," set in Udler, Germany, in the

year 1920. Here, Gates introduces us to the life of young Klaus, a sensitive boy caught

between an authoritarian father and a loving but exhausted mother. The story delicately

reveals Klaus's inner struggle as he seeks his father's affection and finds refuge in the

presence of his mother.

For several long moments, Anna let Klaus’s question hang there, but then, pressing her lips together, she put down her rolling pin and turned to gaze at her son. He was such a sweet boy, delicate almost, and small for his age. But why, Lord, did he need to know about these things? Why, at age eight, take on all that ballast? But he had asked, and she was the sort of woman who believed you should respect children enough to answer their questions. She wiped her hands on her apron and knelt before him. “Papi does love you, you know that, don’t you?” she said, taking his hands in hers, and he nodded, urged on, she supposed, by the tone of her voice. “It’s just his wound that’s the problem. It hurts him and then he gets cross.”

This passage underscores Klaus's emotional dilemma and the familial tension caused by his

father's unhealed wounds, both physical and emotional. His father's unresolved war injuries

not only cause him physical pain but also deepen the rift between him and his son, turning

every interaction into a battleground of resentments and misunderstandings.

The book is a profound exploration of the war's impact on families and how trauma can shape

relationships. Gates manages to present these themes with a delicacy and depth that leave a

lasting impression on readers. The author's narrative style is remarkable, and her ability to

create complex and believable characters is evident in every story in this collection.

The above excerpt introduces us to Klaus's world, a young man ambitious but discouraged by

the financial and social realities of his family. In a discussion with his uncle Karl, Klaus is

confronted with the harsh reality of his limited opportunities to attend university due to his

parents' financial troubles. This moment of crisis becomes even more pressing when his uncle

proposes what seems like a saving solution: support for the Nazi Party. Karl promises him

that once the Nazis come to power, everything will change for the better, offering Klaus the

chance to pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer. However, Klaus is skeptical and aware of

the unstable political reality, which creates internal tension and intense moral debate.

Another powerful scene depicts Klaus in a difficult domestic situation, witnessing his father's

verbal and physical violence. The conflict between filial duty and disgust for his father's

behavior throws Klaus into an inner struggle. His reaction to helping his mother despite his

disdain for his father reveals the emotional complexity of the character and loyalty to the

family, despite the abuse suffered.

The story continues to explore Klaus's transformation as he becomes more deeply involved in

Nazi Party activities, as well as his interactions with characters like Olga, a young woman

employed at the SD headquarters in Paris. Here, Klaus uses his charm to gather information

and manipulate situations in his favor, demonstrating an adaptability and fluid morality

conditioned by circumstances and personal ambitions.

In another story from the collection, Josephine Butler, a former British doctor recruited for

special missions by Churchill, risks her life in occupied Paris to gather information about

Nazi movements. This dramatic encounter with the brutality of SS soldiers while carrying out

her undercover mission adds another tense and dangerous dimension to the story. In contrast

to the brutal actions of the Nazis, Gates also introduces characters like Eva Gottlieb, a young

woman struggling to survive in a world dominated by fear and loss:

By the time Eva Gottlieb arrives at Mme Larcher’s, she’s a mess. Her hair is damp and stringy, and her shoes are so wet they squish when she walks.” This description of Eve emphasizes the fragility and vulnerability of those caught in the maelstrom of war.

The story "Collaboration" highlights the moral and emotional dilemmas people face in extreme situations, offering readers a profound insight into human psychology and the devastating effects of war on interpersonal relationships. In this chapter of the story, we meet

Marianne: “Klaus lay next to Marianne in her big bed, watching the play of shadows on the ceiling and feeling vaguely out of sorts. He’d met Marianne at the end of 1942 when she’d barged into his oce wearing a full-length mink and demanding a pass to visit her sister in Paris. She was older than Klaus by a good ten or fteen years, but she wasn’t bad looking (French women of her class never were), so when she invited him for dinner, he accepted without knowing quite what to expect. The meal had been excellent, though, and what followed was even better. In fact, she’d shown him a very good time. But that was six months ago, and the enthusiasm she’d exhibited then had pretty much worn off.”

Klaus feels dissatisfied in the company of Marianne, an older woman who entered his life six

months ago, requesting a permit to visit her sister in Paris. Their relationship started with

enthusiasm and passion, but now it has become a source of frustration for Klaus. On the

evening the story begins, after a successful dinner with roasted goose and

Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Klaus feels that Marianne is not responding the same as before. Their

discussions become tense, and Klaus accuses Marianne of not showing the same enthusiasm.

As the story progresses, Marianne reflects on their relationship and her own choices.

Although she succumbed to Klaus's advances and experienced moments of pleasure, she

realizes it is only a temporary illusion. In her mind, a sense of guilt and shame arises for

compromising herself in front of the "Butcher of Lyon," as Klaus was known. She realizes

that she has sacrificed a part of herself for a relationship that, essentially, is empty and

meaningless. This story illustrates the complexity of human relationships in times of war,

where loyalties are often tested, and moral truths are ambiguous. Gates manages to create an

atmosphere charged with tension and introspection, revealing the internal struggles of her


"Number 12 Rue de Saint Catherine and Other Stories" by Roberta Hartling Gates is a

fascinating journey through the labyrinth of history and the human soul. Through her rich

narrative and memorable characters, Gates offers a captivating perspective on the complexity

of emotions and human relationships in a challenging context. The book succeeds in

revealing the secrets and sacrifices behind personal stories, as illustrated in the chosen quote,

representative of the author's ability to captivate and maintain suspense until the last page.

The diverse approach to historical context and characters seems to imbue the book with

uniqueness and depth, offering a fresh perspective on familiar events and situations.

The stories in this collection are a fascinating exploration of human psychology in the face of

adversity and evil, providing an emotional perspective on the lives of those affected by Nazi

occupation. Roberta Hartling Gates skillfully blends historical elements with fictional

narratives, creating a complex mosaic of human courage and resilience in the face of

darkness. Thus, "Number 12 Rue de Saint Catherine and Other Stories" remains an essential

read for those eager to explore the depths and contradictions of humanity in times of crisis

and conflict.


“Number 12 Rue Sainte-Catherine and Other Stories” by Roberta Hartling Gates receives 4.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company


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