Like Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks's best-selling epic of love and war, Charlotte Gray plunges the reader into the darkest, most harrowing days of war.

This time, the setting is blacked-out London and unoccupied France during World War II. Faulks' complicated heroine, Charlotte Gray, is a young Scottish woman haunted by a troubled childhood. Wanting to help the Allied war effort, she moves to London and falls passionately in love with a dashing RAF pilot named Peter Gregory. Soon afterwards, his plane mysteriously disappears over France.

Determined to find Peter, Charlotte uses her connections to join British Intelligence and work undercover for the fledging French Resistance. Disguised as a French woman, she is dropped by parachute into the French countryside. Here, just beneath the surface of everyday life, horrors occur. Through a web of war-damaged people, Faulks creates a vivid, unforgettable portrait of Vichy France under the occupation.

The best and worst of human nature is laid bare, and Charlotte finds herself "drawn into the frightening destiny of the people she had met." Not knowing if Peter is alive or dead, Charlotte decides to stay in France. Even as the danger mounts, she is befriended and protected by Julian, a passionate member of the local Resistance. Julian's father, a failed artist of Jewish descent, lets Charlotte stay in his house and helps her come to terms with her past. When the Nazis finally come for Julian's father and two local Jewish children, Charlotte's agony leads her to her most dangerous and personal mission yet.

Faulks' convincing historical detail and complex characters vividly illustrate the insanity of war. Charlotte Gray, beautiful and haunting, is as memorable for its portrayal of everyday lives under the occupation as it is for its powerful wartime suspense.

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