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Silver Medal Sarton Prize Story Circle
Finalist New Hampshire Literary Awards
The Spiral Shell: A French Village Reveals Its Secrets of Jewish Resistance in World War II
There are times in each of our lives when we make a journey that takes us beyond the physical place we’ve ventured in order to reveal a different, greater sense of ourselves and our place in history. For author Sandell Morse what started out as a research project became an unexpected rediscovery of identity and faith. In this haunting memoir, she uncovers long silenced stories of bravery and resistance among the civilians of a small town in France during WWII, and in turn finds deeper meaning and understanding of her own Jewish heritage. After the war, as the author describes, “truth went underground” and the stories of those who resisted and escaped were left buried and unheard. Morse gradually befriended and gained the trust of several individuals who shared their stories of bravery and resistance during that harrowing time. In a narrative that unfolds and overlaps both past and present, the author in turn discovers truths about her own life and Jewish history, denied her in childhood, and that she now more fully comprehends in light of the brave and selfless actions of those who chose to fight against bigotry, oppression, and genocide.
“The Spiral Shell is an evocative, probing, heartfelt memoir, as rich in character and detail as the best fiction. There are all kinds of reckonings here: personal, historical, spiritual. There is a vivid present as well as a vividly imagined past, a voice that is at turns charming, grieving, outraged and wry. Sandell Morse illuminates with wisdom and grace Eli Wiesel’s timeless injunction that, “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”
—Alice McDermott, author of A Bigamist’s Daughter, Charming Billy
“The Spiral Shell depicts two vivid journeys, one inward, as Sandell Morse explores her own identity as a Jew and one outward, as she pieces together the history of French Jews under the Vichy government. Each journey is fraught with reversals, full of unexpected details and betrayals at many levels. Secrecy, Morse discovers, is still rife around the deportation of French Jews. This is a necessary, illuminating and beautifully intelligent memoir.”
—Margot Livesey, author of Eva Moves the Furniture and The Hidden Machinery, essays on the craft of writing