Monday, August 12, 2019

The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah

In recent months, I've been talking about women and World War II with several other women, including my mother. We've commented about the large number of women's stories about the war years. My personal theory? The men's accounts of war and fighting have been told. It's only now that novelists have the chance to tell the stories of the heart, the stories of women who resisted or struggled to survive, saved others, lost their own lives. The stories of battle have been on the big stage. Women's stories are more intimate. For me, that means novels such as Ann Mah's The Lost Vintage have depth and insight into characters.

Kate Elliott's family roots are in Burgundy, France. She spent her summers there as a child, although she grew up in California. Although she loved Jean-Luc Valery, when he took over his family's vineyard at 21, she fled. She wasn't prepared for marriage, and to give her life to the vineyards as generations had.

Now, she's back in Burgundy for a visit, after ten years away. She's offered to help her cousin and his wife, her college friend, Heather, with the annual grape harvest. She's there, hoping to bone up on wines from the region as she prepares for her third and final Master of Wine exam. But, she's always had a mental block about wines from this region. It may have something to do with family and lost love.

There's a restlessness, an uneasy atmosphere in Nico and Heather's home. They have secrets, but it isn't until Heather asks Kate to help clean out the family cellar that bigger secrets are exposed. Those family secrets go back to World War II, and an unknown great-aunt Helene. Although the family patriarch warns Kate and Heather not to dig into the past, the two persist. Helene's story will haunt them, and change the paths of their lives.

Mah's handling of the story, and the history behind it, is skillfully done. She intersperses Kate's story and the story of the search for answers, with Helene's diary from the war years. And, then she twists the ending so that the reader, as well as Kate, is surprised. Family secrets can be the darkest, and the deepest ones.

As author Therese Anne Fowler said, the story is "rich in detail about French food, culture, history, and of course wine." It's also rich in the details of the lives of two related women, separated by decades, but connected by wine and family. It's a tragic story, as so many stories of women in wartime are, but it rewards the reader with that remarkable twist.

The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah. William Morrow, reprint edition, 2019, 400p.

Publisher -

Ann Mah's website is

Katia Grimmer-Laversanne

About Ann Mah

Ann Mah is a food and travel writer based in Paris and Washington DC. She is the author of the food memoir Mastering the Art of French Eating, and a novel, Kitchen Chinese. She regularly contributes to the New York Times’ Travel section and she has written for Condé Nast Traveler,,, Washingtonian magazine, and other media outlets.
Find out more about Ann at her website, and connect with her on FacebookInstagramTwitter, and Pinterest.
FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to participate in a TLC Book Tour.


Sara Strand said...

Thank you so much for being on this tour- I am so glad you enjoyed this! Sara @ TLC Book Tours

Lesa said...

I did, Sara. Thank you. I liked it well enough to order copies for the library after reading it.

Gram said...

It sounds like my kind of book and I put it on my someday list at the local library. Thanks.