THE FORGOTTEN SUMMER by Carol Drinkwater
Reviewed exclusively for The Middle East Online by Rhona Wells
With warmth, compassion and a deep understanding of la France profonde, Carol Drinkwater delves into one of the dark legacies of the French colonial era in Algeria – the return of the Pied Noir to their French homeland, in the early 1960s, a situation rarely addressed in contemporary literature, not least because it is still capable of ruffling feathers on both sides of the divide. The Pied Noir, or black feet, were the hundreds of thousands of French citizens, French passport holders, white Europeans born on Algerian soil, who had held sway over Algeria for more than 150 years.
In the summer of 1962, a French family, the Cambons, decided to flee their Algerian home as violence in the North African state reached its zenith. After eight years of bloody conflict, with violent extremes on both sides, Algeria had finally achieved its independence, prompting more than 900,000 French to flee the country, fearing reprisals from Algerian nationalists with a score to settle against the hated French colonisers. Widely despised in Algeria, the Pied Noir found little favour among their French countrymen when they returned back.
The Forgotten Summer, follows the fortunes of one such family as they leave North Africa and attempt to carve out a new life in the South of France.
Oozing with Provençal charm, the book follows the frequently rocky path of the two feisty Cambon sisters who, after fleeing Algeria, battle relentlessly to save the beleaguered vineyard and abandoned olive grove that form the backbone of their family estate.
This is a story of tenacity, love, intrigue and deceit that will intoxicate the reader as surely and efficiently as the sights and scents of Provence. A chorus of wild flowers, cicadas singing, bees buzzing and wild eagles circling on high, all help transport the reader to the heart of this most romantic of all regions of France.
As the multi-faceted plot evolves, Drinkwater takes us seamlessly through the years and seasons providing an impressive insight into the French psyche. The novel’s mix of romance, alongside an historic tableaux that offers a timely reminder of just how the scars that continue to blight modern day France came about, make this book a compulsive read.
Carol Drinkwater has travelled extensively in the Middle East region. Her book The Olive Route, in which she set out to discover more about the origins of the olive tree, took her on an 18-month long solo journey around countries including Syria, Libya, Lebanon and Palestine. She lives, with her husband, French filmmaker Michel Noll, on a majestic old olive farm in Provence.