2014 Forest of Reading, White Pine Award — Winner, Nonfiction
The true story of how a young Québécois nun ended up a prisoner of war in Buchenwald and how her daughter discovered her secrets.
In this true story, Armande Martel, a young nun from Quebec, is arrested by the Germans in 1940 during a stay at her religious order’s mother house in Brittany. She spends the war years in a German concentration camp. After her return to Canada, she leaves the Church, finds the love of her life in Montreal, and adopts Lise Dion.
Growing up, Lise is familiar with only a few facts of her mother’s past. It’s when she clears her mother’s small apartment after her death that Lise Dion discovers the key to the blue trunk, which was always locked. This key unlocks the mystery of Armande’s early life, and Lise decides to write The Secret of the Blue Trunk.
Low Drama, High Intensity=Good Read
Had I known Armande’s tale would take me into a first hand account of a Nazi camp, I would not have opened the book. That would have been my loss.
Lise Dion uncovers, after the death of her mother, four notebooks, hand written describing the life of young Armande Martel from her providential career as Nun, to her wildly exciting trip to Europe where she lives in a Convent, yes, but apprentices to master her chosen trade: seamstress.
Ignoring advice from more worldly people and having a Canadian passport land Martel in a Nazi camp.
Martel’s positive attitude surfaces as one of the reasons for her survival: “So there was a positive side to this underground camp: since I no longer heard the blasts of explosions (air raids) I no longer wondered how many casualties the next bomb was going to cause.” That and the care of the three women with whom she shared her mattress, and her life helped provide the emotional closeness necessary. It was their devotion to each other which built a protective wall around all four. It was their friendship, their commitment, their bond that fed their souls in the soulless underground of the Nazi munitions factory.
Details fall from Armande Martel’s pen with a quiet intensity that demands notice. By understating her story: describing yes, the deprivations and degradations of her four years in the labor camp, such as having to strip and walk in front of the guards, or having to partake in the Lottery of Death, yet offering these descriptions in a sparse manner, the reader almost leans in, attends more deeply, empathizes more fully than a more dramatic presentation might elicit.
Although the Secret promised in the title reveals itself fully, the reader is equally riveted by the quiet intensity of Martel’s writing style. Get the book. Read the story.
The secret of the blue trunk
I recommend to read this book. Simply written but highly effective.