Book Title and Author: Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin
Publication Date and Publisher: May 21, 2019 by Delacorte Press
Genre: Historical Fiction, WWII
Pages: 384 pages
Buy on Amazon.com
Date Read: May 14, 2019 (galley from the publisher)
A captivating novel based on the story of the extraordinary real-life American woman who secretly worked for the French Resistance during World War II–while playing hostess to the invading Germans at the iconic Hotel Ritz in Paris–from the New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator’s Wife and The Swans of Fifth Avenue.
Nothing bad can happen at the Ritz; inside its gilded walls every woman looks beautiful, every man appears witty. Favored guests like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Coco Chanel, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor walk through its famous doors to be welcomed and pampered by Blanche Auzello and her husband, Claude, the hotel’s director. The Auzellos are the mistress and master of the Ritz, allowing the glamour and glitz to take their minds off their troubled marriage, and off the secrets that they keep from their guests–and each other.
Until June 1940, when the German army sweeps into Paris, setting up headquarters at the Ritz. Suddenly, with the likes of Hermann Goring moving into suites once occupied by royalty, Blanche and Claude must navigate a terrifying new reality. One that entails even more secrets. One that may destroy the tempestuous marriage between this beautiful, reckless American and her very proper Frenchman. For the falsehoods they tell to survive, and to strike a blow against their Nazi “guests,” spin a web of deceit that ensnares everything and everyone they cherish.
But one secret is shared between Blanche and Claude alone–the secret that, in the end, threatens to imperil both of their lives, and to bring down the legendary Ritz itself.
Based on true events, Mistress of the Ritz is a taut tale of suspense wrapped up in a love story for the ages, the inspiring story of a woman and a man who discover the best in each other amid the turbulence of war.
I knew when Melanie Benjamin was writing a book set in Paris, one of my most beloved cities in the world and at the sumptuous Hotel Ritz on the Place Vendome no less, that I wanted to read it! Throw in the fact that it’s set during WWII, and this was a must-read book for me.
Mistress of the Ritz is a fictionalized account of the lives of husband and wife Claude and Blanche Auzello, shifting time between the 1920s, when the couple met in a whirlwind love affair and got married and the novel’s present time during the Nazi’s Occupation of Paris.
The story is told in alternating chapters by Claude and Blanche and through their different points of view, you get a real sense of their marriage and the secrets each are keeping from the other. It is the couple’s mistrust of the other that threatens to ruin them.
Claude, a Frenchman, is the director of the famed Ritz and treats it as a beloved mistress; for Claude, the Ritz is everything and he seemingly will do anything to keep his precious Ritz from harm even if it means almost bowing and scraping to the Nazis who have become the Ritz’s most esteemed and privileged “guests”. Little does anyone know that Claude is covertly working against the Nazi by giving info to the Allies…
As far as Blanche knows, Claude’s seeming compliance with the Nazis is just one more reason to be disappointed in her husband and her marriage. After all, its already been a tumultuous one for decades with Claude insisting it’s his right as a Frenchman to have a mistress, and he can’t understand why this makes his American wife so angry!
But Blanche also loves the Ritz as much as Claude and it is she who is called the “Mistress of the Ritz” by those who love her as she entertains the rich and famous in the hotel bar. Yet, she is so much more than just a hostess as she wants to do more for her adopted country, especially after meeting Lily, a young Communist working for the French Resistance and getting involved herself. But that’s not the only secret Blanche is keeping.
Although the book was a tad slow to start as it centered a bit on the marital problems of the Auzellos, I found by the second half that I couldn’t put the book down and was completely immersed in the story. I thought Benjamin did a great job with telling this story, especially since there is so little record about the Auzellos, but Benjamin takes what is known and turns it into an inspiring, captivating read about two people that I’d never heard of in history.
The characters really came alive for me in the second half, and the novel was written as smooth as silk. Of course, the Auzellos aren’t the only main characters in the book as I think the Ritz took on a life of its own with the story sweeping and swirling in and around it.
I truly enjoyed this novel, and it didn’t disappoint at all, thankfully, since it was a much-anticipated summer read! Definitely another favorite WWII novel that I recommend adding to your reading list!
~This was a Traveling Sisters Group Read, and I loved reading it with them and the discussions it inspired. Thank you, ladies! See their fab review here!~
**Thank you Delacorte Press-Random House for the beautiful gifted copy of this novel to read in exchange for a fair and honest review.**