• Friday, May 27th, 2022

Nina George was born in Bielefeld, Germany, in 1973. In 1991 she quit her studies without finishing high school and worked in catering before becoming a freelance journalist, magazine columnist and managing editor for a wide range of publications.

Nina George is a prolific writer; she has published novels, mysteries, non-fiction and many short stories. Her work consists of books written under various names: Nina George, Anne West and Jean Bagnol. In 2012 and 2013, she won the Friedrich Glauser prize for a German-language crime novel.

In May 2015, Nina George was elected to the board of the German Pen and is now an official adviser on the topic of authors’ rights. In 2019 she was elected President of the European Writer’s Council and was re-elected for 2021 to 2023.

Nina George and her husband, the writer Jens Johannes Kramer, live between Hamburg and their cottage in Concarneau in the Finistère department of Brittany in north-west France.

The Little French Bistro was first published in German in 2010 and in English in 2017. It is Nina George’s second novel after The Little Paris Bookshop, published in German in 2013 and English in 2015 and was read and discussed in our Book Club in 2017.

The Little French Bistro’s main character is the German sixty-year-old housewife, Marianne Lanz, who has been married to Lothar Messman for forty-one years. He is an old-fashioned chauvinist, a tight-fisted and egoistic sergeant-major in the German army. Neglected and often admonished by her unloving husband, the dispirited Marianne tries and fails an attempted suicide in the river Seine after quietly leaving her husband in a restaurant in Paris during their holiday.

While in the nurses’ office in a Parisian hospital after being rescued from the waters of the river Seine, Marianne comes across a striking coloured painted square tile used by the nurses as a place-mat. It depicts the ocean view of Kerdruc, a small Brittany port in the north-western-most region of France, jutting out into the Atlantic ocean. She sets her mind to end her life by drowning in the ocean of this beautiful location. However, once in Kerdruc, everyday happenings make her repeatedly postpone her suicide for the next day. She is employed in the kitchen of the Ar Mor restaurant and sympathises with all the villagers around her.

Surrounded by an array of warm-hearted, convivial and different types of indigenous people, Marianne gets better as she starts seeing clearer in her mind and heart. For the first time, she feels free and finds time to learn slowly about herself and her needs in life. Deep feelings that have been buried all these years, shared with an authoritarian, unfeeling, heartless husband, resurface.

In this idyllic place, she finds love, peace and comfort with the handsome Breton artist, Yann Gamé from Armor, the tile painter of the magnificent view of the Kerdruc’s harbour she owns and treasures. She decides that it is never too late to start a new life – even at her age – afresh with Yann because as long as there is hope, there is a future. Marianne, who went on a journey intended for death, discovers a second chance and a marvellous potential new life reaching out to her for the taking.

Nina George’s writing is clear, vivid and lovingly descriptive; we can almost taste and savour the seafood, smell the ocean breeze, hear the French folkloric music with the accordion playing and share the fabulous French “joie de vivre” in this remote part of France called the end of the world. Unfortunately, the author preferred to introduce multiple characters to her reader while neglecting to depict the characters in depth.

The story conveys a fairy-tale world of Alice in Wonderland, looking through the glass to find a friendly, peaceful, unreal world that she never imagined existed, combined with Cinderella being saved by her fairy godmother and finding her prince charming after years of hardship and slavery.

The author includes a magical realism phenomenon in her story: Marianne, who has spiritual powers, and a birthmark proving her Celtic Druid origin, further enhances the simile and, in return, explains her attachment to this chosen Celtic place in Brittany to spend what is left of her years.

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Category: Book Reviews
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