Pearls and Nazis in The Pear Thief | Spoiler-Free Review

The Pearl Thief by Fiona McIntosh

5 Star Rating System 5 stars

Genre: Historical Fiction
Author: Fiona McIntosh
Published: October 2018
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Pages: 500 {paperback}

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Review on Goodreads


Initial Thoughts Upon Finishing

Absolutely incredible!! Holy wow, this is my first Fiona McIntosh book I’ve read and I see what I’ve been missing out on. I loved this!


The Pearl Thief

Gosh, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into when I first picked this. I bought this for my mum as a present a year or two ago and proceeded to forget about its existence. But then Audible had a book sale (and these audiobooks book sales are my new weakness) and this was going for FIVE DOLLARS. Five dollars, people, what’s a girl to do? Of course, I bought a copy.

I was mildly interested in this. Fiona McIntosh has always been an author I have long since placed firmly on the Do Not Touch Until Middle-Aged shelf. I was wrong. SO WRONG. A naive and witless child, I had no idea what I missing out on. Pure brilliance, masterful prose, tangible plots and characters. I must start a shrine dedicated to McIntosh and pray for her forgiveness: it is the only way.

The book is set in Paris and London (and in the flashbacks, also Prague during WWII) in 1963. The leading lady is Severine Kassel, a gloriously elegant woman I aspire to be one day. I painted a very French picture of her in my mind (even though she is Czech): swishing hips, dripping with poise, irresistibly beautiful, the envy of all. You could say that Severine is my idol. You could.

She is mysterious and has many secrets shrowded in the pain of her past. A specialist in antique (Jewish) jewellery—a skill in high demand as the ’60s were rife with the repatriation of stolen items (including jewellery, obvs) back to their traditional owners. This is a topic in history that I salivate at the mouth for. Not to mention, it’s still highly relevant today. The total chaos that the Nazis inflicted upon the provenance of many beautiful things is the biggest tangle of string the world has ever had to unravel. Even worse than the knot I once tied on one of my grandmother’s stools, and that was pretty bad.

Called into the British Museum (okay, I can’t actually remember which country, let alone museum, this revelatory plot point happens in, but let’s say it was the British Museum), Severine is asked to assess a string of pearls—invaluable pearls—and shed any light whatsoever that she could on their provenance. Instead, she faints. The shock is too much. These pearls are hers. SACRE BLEU!

Naturally, we are swept up in a swish of tailcoats as the story whisks us back into the HIGHLY TRAUMATIC PAST of Severine’s life (like holy shit that was so fucking unexpected). Never have I misjudged McIntosh so badly. Nay, this was not your average sob-story of historical fiction: this has the guts and gore of REAL history that makes you terrified of the past and so glad you live in the future. The now. The present. The not-ridden-with-Nazis-reality. Sheesh.

We meet several other characters along the way: a Mossad agent (honestly I had no idea what ‘Mossad’ was before this book, I have been enlightened), a delightful lawyer, a fatherly figure and the MOST DESPICABLE Nazi I have ever imagine. Worst than Hitler (not true, but makes for a highly emphatic point). Severine’s character is pulled apart by each of these characters in a revealing tale that then lovingly weaves her back together again.


Why I Loved It

I have no words—no words that are good enough, that is—to express my abundant love of this book. I swear to you, fellow reader, that I sure as hell will be buying and reverently reading each and every single one of McIntosh’s other books. I need them. I need this brilliant quality of writing in my life. It is as though Jesus has finally revealed himself to me, I have discovered the meaning of life: Fiona McIntosh.

Am I being too dramatic? I think not. I fell in love with the characters in this book. Severine is so delicate but unbelievably heroic and robust. Her past is not a thing to trifle with and I am in awe that anyone could go through anything remotely similar to what she has and continue to live their lives day-to-day as though they were fine! My own problems are so insignificant. Where is my spine? Where is my pluck? How could I possibly consider myself to be a worthy person when I can be felled by a mere papercut. I disgust myself. But alas, I digress.

The imagery of this book has burned itself into my mind. Perhaps this is just because I listened to the audiobook (naturally I have an even more visual experience reading audiobooks than regular books so I remember them with more detail sometimes). But the sights, smells and textures of Paris and London hop to the forefront of my brain whenever I so much as see the cover of this book. I think I might actually be in love with McIntosh’s writing. I must calm myself down.


The Audiobook

Dare I say, masterful? The performance by the voice actor (Katy Sobey, who also voices Uprooted and is, in short, magnificent) for this recording was ovation worthy. Sobey actually used an accent when voicing Severine (and others) and it doubled the authenticity of the story—it really threw you into the midst of everything that was happening. The audiobook simply has to be the better version of this story: I would highly recommend that you read this in this form.


Summary

Am I over-excited? Yes. But is it appropriate? Yes. This story is amazing. If you haven’t read it, you must. If you don’t like historical fiction, then you’re probably not even still reading this review so pft. But I think I may have just stumbled upon one of my new favourite authors.


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Happy reading!

~~ Kirstie ~~

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3 thoughts on “Pearls and Nazis in The Pear Thief | Spoiler-Free Review

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