This well-researched historical fiction novel takes place in Paris 1878. It follows the van Goethem sisters as they struggle to survive after their father dies. Luckily the oldest sister, Antoinette, once trained in ballet for the Paris Opera and uses her mischievous ways to get auditions for her little sisters. Little did I know, but they used to pay girls to train for the ballet.
Every other chapter is told from the middle sister, Marie's, point of view, although the story mainly centers around her. She wants nothing more than stability for her family. Marie is a hard worker who loves music and her family, which makes her accessible to almost all of us. One way she makes extra money is by posing for Edgar Degas. He has a smaller role in this story but is still well developed as a character.
This is an excellent sister story, but I also felt the author was making a commentary on our roles in the world. Can you truly pull yourself up by your bootstraps or were you born to your lot in life? Don't tell. I'm not supposed to quote an advanced copy of the book but I feel in sharing this you will understand an underlying theme:
Monsieur Zola's tale is not about getting a washhouse or a chance upon the stage. It is about begin born downtrodden and staying that way. Hard work makes no difference, he is saying. My lot, the lots of those around me, were cast the moment we were born into the gutter to parents who never managed to step outside the gutter themselves.
Read this book and you will be magicked away to a time and place very different from our own. Fortunately the characters will make you feel at home.
P.S. This book counts as my book Published in 2013 for my Eclectic Reader Challenge.