In the years that have passed since Paris’ iconic Ritz hotel opened in 1898, a multiplicity of well-to-do travelers, famous guests and distinguished residents have passed through the property’s grand doors. Extending that list to the fictional, we can now add the fascinating characters of “All the Ways We Said Goodbye,” a historical novel that uses the hotel as the backdrop to explore the storylines of three people connected over 50 years in the 20th century.
This is the third book written by the trio of authors known as Team W: Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White, the last of whom lives in metro Atlanta. Each a prolific writer in her own right, the team previously co-authored “The Forgotten Room” and “The Glass Ocean.” Their process is to collectively brainstorm the plot, then individually take ownership of one character’s narrative and write the chapters round robin-style — without revealing to the public who wrote which parts.
In their latest collaboration, the chapters rotate between three women on the precipice of dramatic life changes. Aurélie is a young heiress who leaves the safety of her mother’s suite at the Ritz to protect her father’s estate in France during World War 1. Daisy is a mother who grew up in the hotel and becomes a Resistance fighter in Paris during WWII. And Babs is a widow who lives in England but stays at the Ritz in 1964 while looking for closure regarding her late husband’s past.
As with most books that bear multiple storylines, the reader is asked to put in some work during the beginning to keep things straight, draw connections and maintain a flexible focus. Yet readers wind up fully engaged in the characters’ outcomes as the links become apparent.
The daughter of a French count, Aurélie’s lineage comes with a precious relic: a scrap of cloth dipped in the blood of Joan of Arc that’s been encased in a gold pendant studded with rubies and diamonds. Legend has it that as long as the talisman is held by a Courcelles daughter, France cannot fall. This lore fuels Aurélie’s determination to do something valiant as the Germans encroach on Paris in 1914.
Shortly after arriving in Courcelles with the talisman, Aurélie’s ancestral chateau is commandeered by German soldiers. Among them is someone she’d spent time with in Paris — a man “with the strength to be kind in a world that drew power from cruelty, with a deep down goodness that transcended allegiances and uniforms and all the nonsense men used to justify their baser instincts.”
In 1942, with France under Hitler's control, Daisy, a mother of two, learns a fact about her lineage that endangers her safety. As a result, she’s enlisted by an underground movement to deliver books containing hidden identity papers for Jewish refugees and Resistance members. Her husband, a Nazi collaborator, is unaware his wife is working in secret alongside a thoughtful Englishman who lives in a small apartment hidden in a bookstore.
Which brings us to the 1960s. Babs is still reeling from her husband Kit’s death a year earlier when she receives a letter from an American lawyer seeking her help. To clear his father’s name for presumably stealing the Courcelles talisman during WWII, he needs to find a legendary Resistance fighter known as “La Fleur,” who worked with Babs’ husband before they were married. Babs had first heard the name when Kit muttered it while incoherent upon his return home after two years in German prison camp. The mystery of La Fleur had haunted Babs ever since.
All three of the women’s tales share themes of preservation and romance. Two are about forbidden love, and one has a rom-com premise, but none of the women are saved from heartbreak. Together the stories serve as a reminder that our lives are made better by the actions and suffering of those who came before us.
Readers of Team W’s previous books will notice clever character connections from other storylines. There are Easter eggs for first-timers, too: The beginning of each chapter plays off a word or sentiment in the previous chapter’s final sentence. Despite being written by three authors, the tone remains consistent.
While the talisman is the book’s bejeweled idée fixe, the real gems are the historical nuggets of information about famous guests that are scattered throughout. For instance, we learn that Coco Chanel fraternized with Nazis, and Marcel Proust hated the noise. Famed as the place to be during the Belle Epoque, the Ritz is depicted as a whimsical safe house during the turbulent years that followed — a place where even the shine of the entrance makes it “appear as if those passing through the hallowed doors had somehow been anointed.”
For most people, staying at a grand hotel is a rare treat. It’s a time to indulge in luxury, to be catered to with impeccable service and to forget about the outside world until check-out. It’s not unlike the experience a reader gets when reading “All the Ways We Said Goodbye.”
‘All the Ways We Said Goodbye’
By Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White
448 pages, $28.99.
Book Release Party. Join authors Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White to celebrate the publication of their book “All the Ways We Said Goodbye.” 6:30 p.m. Jan. 14. FoxTale Book Shoppe, 105 E Main Street, Woodstock. 770-516-9989, www.foxtalebookshoppe.com
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.