Review: The People in the Photo

Title: The People in the Photo

Author: Hélène Gestern

Goodreads DescriptionThe chance discovery of a newspaper image from 1971 sets two people on the path to learning the disturbing truth about their parents’ pasts.

Parisian archivist Hélène takes out a newspaper advert calling for information about her mother, who died when she was three, and the two men pictured with her in a photograph taken at a tennis tournament at Interlaken in 1971. Stéphane, a Swiss biologist living in Kent, responds: his father is one of the people in the photo. Letters and more photos pass between them as they embark on a journey to uncover the truth their parents kept from them. But will the relics of the past fill the silences left by the players?

Poignant, mysterious, bittersweet.

Hélène Gestern elegantly tells a story of identity, love found, and love lost. The entire story is told through letters, emails, and photographs, creating an intricately woven tale of a woman and man, brought together by the dark side of their parents’ past that was kept hidden.

I did not know what to expect when I chose to read this novel. The concept of epistolary story-telling was foreign to me, and I thought I wouldn’t be able to fully commit to something like that, but after a few chapters I was totally engaged in this story. The delivery was superb and when it was over, I felt unsettled and peaceful at the same time.

This novel raises a sort of interesting question: can you develop a character not through their actions, but through the words that they write? This book has shown me that the answer is obviously yes! Gestern develops the two primary characters, Hélène and Stéphane, in a subtle way that will make you unable to stop turning the page.  There is so much depth to each character, and looking at their correspondence you can clearly see their compassion, empathy, and devotion to their investigation and each other.

The premise was also very interesting; at the beginning of each chapter, a photo is described and analyzed in great detail, then as the story goes on our protagonists collect pieces to the puzzle that is their parents lives. They try to unravel all the secrets that were kept from them, and when it all comes together at the end they learn that the mystery of their parents’ hidden lives was actually a tragedy.

I absolutely adore this book! It became an instant favorite as soon as I finished it, and it left me in a trance of pensive sadness and hope.  I’m giving it 5 stars because it was an unexpected pleasure. A gem.



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