Cover image for The mark of the angel
The mark of the angel
Huston, Nancy, 1953-
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Empreinte de l'ange. English
First edition.
Publication Information:
South Royalton, Vt. : Steerforth Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
222 pages ; 23 cm
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In the spring of 1957, a young German girl arrives in Paris to take a position as housekeeper to a bachelor flautist. Soon Saffie and Raphael are married and a son, Emil, is born. One day, Saffie and Emil go on errands to the Marais where they encounter an intriguing instrument maker, Andras. A passionate affair that will last a decade begins immediately. Framed within the love triangle is an exploration of the ways in which individual lives and historical events intersect, from the Soviet invasion of Budapest to the Kennedy assassination, and the different ways in which the German girl and the Hungarian Jew remember World War II and the Algerian war for independence.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Paris has always been the city for doomed love affairs, from the Hunchback of Notre Dame to Bogey and Ingrid Bergman. Huston, a Canadian writer who lives in Paris, adds another to the list with this poignant story of two shell-shocked World War II survivors coming together in Paris in the late 1950s. Saffie is an oddly passive German woman who wanders into Paris and into the life of Raphael, a classical musician beginning a triumphant career. Saffie cleans Raphael's house, marries him, has his child, but remains somehow untouchable. The thin veil shielding her from the pain of life is only removed when she meets Andras, an musical instrument maker who lives in the Marais district. In the arms of Andras, a Hungarian Jew and radical activist, Saffie experiences a life-affirming passion that Huston contrasts with the atrocities committed by the French in the Algerian revolution. This attempt to link the personal and political never quite works--authorial intrusions prove more jarring than enlightening--but the story of Saffie and Andras hits a perfect melancholy note and sustains it superbly. --Bill Ott

Publisher's Weekly Review

Drenched in irony, and very French in sensibility, Huston's U.S. debut must overcome an unfortunate beginning before it gallops away with the reader's mesmerized attentionÄbut once underway, it fascinates with its blend of cynicism and romance, and its dramatization of the roles of accident and fate, and of evil and injustice, in human history. Initially, one must accept a far-fetched plot: that when world-famous flutist Raphael Lepage sees Saffie, the young German woman who answers an ad for a maid to clean his luxurious Paris apartment, he immediately succumbs to overwhelming love and soon afterward marries herÄdespite the fact that she is as emotionless as a zombie, does not even remotely return his affections and is anathema to his beloved mother, who has never forgiven the Nazi occupation 20 years before. Even the birth of a son does not thaw Saffie's cold indifference, which persists until she meets Andr s, a Hungarian-Jewish refugee who repairs musical instruments; the mutual recognition of irresistible passion releases all her emotions. During their liaisons in his little shop in the Marais, Andr s tells Saffie about the destruction of his family in Budapest, and she reveals her own traumatic memories of WWIIÄthe Allied bombings, her father's complicity with the campaign of annihilation, her mother's brutal rape by conquering Russian soldiers. Even as their affair unfolds, however, the horrifying events of the 1940s are being repeated in Algeria and France, as FLN terrorists strike back at French atrocities. In the end, innocence must die, as, Huston reminds us, it always has and always will. While Huston often overwrites and sometimes indulges in arch asides, once she establishes her story's central ironies, the narrative achieves a relentless velocity. A scene in which both Saffie and Andr s recall separate incidents in which poorly buried bodies erupt through the earth, drenching the soil with blood, is a shattering reminder of the endless cycle of human violence. Canadian-born Huston has lived in France for more than three decades, where her books (seven novels plus nonfiction works) are bestsellers. BOMC and QPB selections; paperback rights to Vintage. (Oct.) FYI: The Mark of an Angel won the French Prix des Lectrices d'ELLE and the Prix des Librairies in Canada, and is shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt in France. Huston's other awards include the Prix Contrepoint, the Prix Goncourt Lyceen and the Canadian Governor General's Award in French. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Saffie doesn't seem like an angel when she emerges from the train station in Paris in 1957 but so profoundly impassive as to be almost unreal. She takes up duties as a maid to talented flautist Raphael, who promptly falls in love with her and, in a passage that seems even more unreal than Saffie herself, quickly manages to bed, marry, and impregnate her. Not even little Emil can rouse Saffie from her sublime listlessness. Then, when she takes her husband's flute for repair, she encounters Andr s and instantly comes alive. It's clear from the start that Saffie is running from a terrible secret dating to World War II, and Andr s, a Hungarian Jew, has past sorrows of his own. Their passionate affair serves not to heal them but as further escape, and it has gruesome consequences. Perhaps the ending is not quite convincingÄtoo abrupt and not sufficiently rooted in what precedesÄbut Huston's prose is strong, ironic, and refreshingly original; she effectively revisits events of this century so much discussed that, tragically, we can go as numb as Saffie. This book was both an award winner and a best seller in France, where Canadian Huston has lived for years. A priority purchase for most libraries.ÄBarbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.