I discovered “Crossing the Borders of Time” through my newest obsession, Wowbrary. When I read its summary, I was immediately drawn in: A German Jewish girl and Catholic Frenchman are separated as the Nazis invade France in World War II. Sixty years later, Leslie Maitland sets out to tell the story of that German Jewish girl who would become her mother.
I’m not much for romance books, but the heart-wrenching story of Janine and Roland is exceptionally well-written. An investigative reporter, Maitland dives headfirst into piecing together her family’s history, from the mid-1930s to current day.
We meet Janine as the teenager Johanna, who flees with her family into France and immediately changes her name in an effort to assimilate into French culture and escape Nazi persecution. But as the French government weakens under Nazi pressures, the family must flee again, escaping Europe and leaving her new beau, Roland. As her ship departs, he leaves her with a letter.
“I consider you from this present day as my fiancee and future partner… Our sole enemy is time! Whatever the length of our separation, our love will survive it, because it depends on us alone… You see, ma cherie, fate has sent us a test so that our love will achieve its full greatness. You are everything for me…”
But Janine’s father would have no part in her relationship with this Catholic boy. And as Janine finds herself an immigrant in, first, Cuba and then the United States, fate works against the young love between her and Roland.
I won’t spoil the story for you, but there was more than one chapter where, as it ended, my heart broke for this couple.
The story was all the more powerful for me because of its truth. Maitland sat with her mother for hours of interviews and traveled multiple times back to Germany and France in her research. She devotes many pages to the Nazi takeover of France and the French reaction to occupation. But instead of focusing on battles and generals and gunfire, Maitland focuses on an exceptionally personal angle of the war.
When I first picked up “Crossing the Borders of Time,” I thought, “Oh no, a thick one,” — it’s 476 pages — and prayed it would keep my interest. But even within the first few pages, I was captivated by their romance and blown away by the story.
Its themes are timeless. It is romance and history; a young girl finding first love; an immigrant family adjusting to a new country; a man and woman settling for second best; a daughter’s search to understand her mother and father.
I cannot recommend it enough.