Winter months in the northern hemisphere nudge us to make a steaming cup of tea, coffee, or cocoa, find a cozy throw, light a fire, and enjoy a good book. Melanie Dobson’s newest release, The Winter Rose, fits well in the scene since the author is an excellent storyteller using the popular “time slip” genre to tell the tale.
The story is told through the life of two women, Grace Tonquin, an American Quaker who works in Vichy France rescuing Jewish children from the Nazis during WW II, and Addie Hoult, someone who is in search of someone in the Tonquin family who could be a matching bone marrow donor to save the life of her mentor who lived on Tonquin Lake, Oregon, as a child.
The story opens in September 1943 in Saint-Lizier, France, where Grace is guiding twelve Jewish children over treacherous paths where she will meet Roland whose contacts will guide the children across the hazardous trails through the Pyrenees into Spain. With the right contacts, a few bribes, and more than a little luck in Spain, the journey will end in freedom for the children.
Dobson’s gift allows you to sense you are on the same trek with Grace and the children as they face one danger after another and hope falters along the way.
No one would expect to find Grace in this role. Born to a Hollywood movie star who seemed nearly invisible to those who called on her mother. She was unable to please her mother but found solace in the home of her grandparents each summer in Oregon.
Addie had learned about Grace from Charlie when her own life went astray, and she was given a choice by authorities that saved her life. She chose a home for teen girls like her in Tennessee run by Charlie Tonquin and his wife, Emma, that would forever change her life and point her toward a faith she had not known. For Addie, the story of Grace and Charlie is a bit like looking at a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing.
Charlie had guarded the details of his life and connection with Grace, but after saving Addie’s life, Addie is determined to find Grace or any Tonquin relative to provide Charlie with the matching donor he needs to save his life. Her quest is guided by the words Charlie poured into her and that had also guided Grace on her many trips seeking to save the Jewish children of France being hunted down by the Nazis:
“She only had to push through the hours in front of her, not think about tomorrow or even yesterday. Today was already set before her, he liked to say. The table prepared.”Melanie Dobson
Dobson weaves the two stories together masterfully and lets you get to know some of the children Grace leads to freedom. Within the story you look at how lives broken and haunted are healed and made whole again and what it means to forgive.
In the story Charlie points to the healthiest ways to deal with wrongs done by illustrating with a bag of stones. He says you can add each wrong (like a stone) to the bag you carry and try to manage the growing weight of it throughout your life, mulling over the hurt and anger. Or you can take the stone that is weighing you down and toss it away into the river (a watery grave), so your own life is not weighed down by the wrong others sought to do to you.
The Winter Rose will remind you of the plight of Jewish children during WW II and the lives of the heroic few who sought to save them. Then you will discover how the redemption of some of them is used to bring hope and healing to others fifty years later when Addie connects the dots between the two time periods and the intersecting story lines.
Malanie Dobson has been one of my favorite storytellers and this latest work pulls you forward page by page to discover the fruit and power of helping others face impossible odds.