Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Review: The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah

Wines and France are pretty much synonymous. Many of the categories of wine that we Americans use generically are named for specific regions in France and experts would not be so sloppy as to refer to a wine not from that region by that name. In fact, there's a lot that experts know that the general wine drinking population doesn't know and there are rigorous and exacting tests to pass for those wanting the prestige of an official designation and the job opportunities that recognition opens up. The main character in Ann Mah's novel The Lost Vintage has a long history connected to wine and needs to take that final step and earn the impossibly difficult Master of Wine.

Kate is a sommelier in California and she's studying for her last chance at passing the Master of Wine test. Her biggest weakness, the blind spot on her previous two failed tests, is French white wines. Determined to finally pass this important test, Kate, whose mother is French, returns to the family vineyard in Burgundy to really focus. As she reconnects with her best friend Heather, now married to Kate's cousin Nico, she slides into life at the domaine easily, despite her lingering discomfort over how her own relationship with family friend Jean-Luc ended a decade ago. Kate helps with les vendages and also tackles the overwhelming clutter in the old farmhouse basement with Heather. As the women clear out decades of both junk and keepsakes, Kate uncovers an old suitcase filled with clothes and a family picture with an unknown young woman in it. Drawn to the woman in the photograph, Kate slowly uncovers more about who she is and just exactly why Kate's Uncle Philippe wants her digging into the past to stop.

The story is told in two narrative arcs, one of Kate in the modern day and one through the teenaged Helene's WWII diary. Although Kate is studying for the Master of Wine certification, this is only tangentially a novel about wine. It is far more about secrets, the shame of the past, the weight of history, truth, family, and what the future owes to the past. What Kate and Heather discover leaves them with very complicated feelings about the family legacy and upends their present. Do they maintain the stoic silence of previous generations or do they allow everything to come to light, the good and the terrible both? In a small way, Heather and Nico's desire to turn the farmhouse into a bed and breakfast over Uncle Philippe's vehement unwillingness mirrors the question of what to do with their newfound knowledge. Helene's diary isn't the only thing that Kate uncovers in the basement though.  Her startling discovery is accidental but there are others knowingly looking for this hidden room and its valuable contents, adding some outside tension to Kate's inner turmoil. This piece was far weaker than the much more compelling plot lines of Kate's reckoning with family ghosts and Helene's life during and immediately after the war.  In fact, this third plot line faded in and out of the story without really adding much to it. But the other two story lines were quite compelling. Kate is a character the reader will sympathize with. Her past (and present) relationship with Jean-Luc might be frustrating (and sometimes a bit thin) but her dogged interest in the hidden past of her family is completely relatable. Helene is fascinating and her diary is a good chance for Mah to describe the realities of the war, the Resistance, and collaborators in ways that Kate (and potentially the readers as well) wouldn't necessarily have learned. As the diary entries continue alongside Kate's suppositions from Heather's and her other research, the reader wonders when she'll find this primary source and how that will change her reckoning. A fast and engrossing read, this is a satisfying family drama, a small window into the life of a vintner, and an enjoyable historical fiction offering an inside view of Vichy France and the continued repercussions of the Nazi Occupation.

For more information about Ann Mah and the book, check our her author website, like her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter or Instagram, check out her boards on Pinterest, look at the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and publisher William Morrow for inspiring me to pull the book off my shelf to read and review.

1 comment:

  1. Can I just say that I learned that a vintner is a thing? (Can you tell I don't drink wine... yikes!!) I'm glad you enjoyed this one, thank you so much for being on this tour! Sara @ TLC Book Tours


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