The Riviera House

Image of The Riviera House
Release Date: 
August 31, 2021
Reviewed by: 

“A riveting story for all those who are a fan of historical fiction and the issue of art stolen by the Nazis.”

A book about love, hatred, betrayal, and Nazi looted art. Engrossing historical fiction about one woman's quest to keep the Nazis from stealing precious art during WWII.

It’s 1939 in Paris and Eliane Dufort tries to enjoy life despite her many hardships. She loves her siblings and her work at the Louvre for M. Jaujard. Living under the shadows of Hitler's ambitions, she's passionate about art and learns to recognize Vermeers, Picassos, Leonardo da Vincis, and Matisses. The “Mona Lisa” is a precious part of her whole being.

Little does she know that she will play an important part in rescuing paintings that were stolen from Jewish owners by the Nazis. She would be playing a dangerous game. Smart and cunning, she successfully fools her Nazi employers into thinking that she can't understand German. This gives her a chance to listen to their conversations and to hear what they are planning. A trip to Cap-Ferrat and the Riviera House puts her in more peril than she had ever imagined.

In Sydney, Australia in 2005 Remi Lang heads to the Riviera House, a home she has mysteriously inherited, to forget the tragic death of her husband and three-year-old daughter, Ebony. She eventually finds out that The Riviera House may hold secrets of her own family when she discovers a painting that has been hanging in her bedroom since childhood. Remi no longer thinks that she's entitled to enjoy life any longer and lives as a recluse. Eliane feels betrayed by the one person she trusts. Remi feels betrayed by life in cutting short the lives of the two people she loved the most. The Riviera House will play a large part in bringing their lives together, even though they're separated by seventy years and two centuries.

Eliane Dufort is the eldest of six children. Her parents own a brasserie and have no time to pay attention to their children's needs. So it's up to Eliane to dress and feed her younger siblings and get them ready for school. Her sisters love her and depend on her to mother them. Eliane wants to be an artist. But she has to earn money to support her large family. She takes art lessons and works at the Louvre for Monsieur Jaujard, the Director. Angelique, the next oldest, takes care of Yolande, the youngest child. "Yolande just wants to be loved. Hug her." One day, she asks M. Jaujard to sell her precious sable paint brushes so that Yolande and the others can have a treat.

M. Jaujard hands her the money, and she buys cakes and pastries for her family. Her father hits her when she buys a bra for Jacqueline, one of her younger sisters. When there's no money left for food, Eliane is forced to work at her parents' brasserie.

One evening, on the way home, she meets her brother Luc, who introduces her to his friend, Xavier, an artist. They make an immediate connection, and he begins to have a drink with her after the Brasserie is closed. She learns that his father owns an art gallery in England. "His dark hair and the dark eyes and the blue shirt and the well-built physique all made him handsome but the thing that made him almost impossibly attractive was his manner."

Eliane can't believe that Hitler and his Nazis would harm the French people. After all, they are all model citizens who live honest lives—until she's shocked by the news that Austria fell under his army. She strongly believes that France would be saved by its precious art until Xavier tells her that: Hitler has "expelled every artist from Germany and his newly claimed lands who's Jewish, or who doesn't paint exactly what he wants, or he's made sure that they'll never work again. He's not just seizing nations; he's destroying their art and culture too." Eliane and Xavier fall in love and plan to marry when he suddenly tells her he has to go to England. She's furious at him for betraying her but he's still the first and only man she'll ever love.

One day, Eliane arrives at her usual job at the Louvre only to find two German guards at the door asking for her I.D. They need her at the Jeu de Paume. There she meets Ernst Konig, a shy Nazi who has an eye for her. Konig tells her that Rose Valland will be her boss from now on. Rose is mopping the floor when they are introduced and gives Eliane a neutral expression.

Rose barks orders at Eliane when Konig or his boss von Behr is around. She learns that von Behr, who is always berating Konig, is his uncle. Eliane sees framed paintings and sculptures being unloaded from crates and hauled inside the museum. She's ordered to carry each one to a room upstairs. Eliane can't believe that she's holding precious Vermeers, Matisses, Picassos, and Rembrandts in her own hands, wondering where they came from.

She carries each one carefully and with love although they are heavy. When she's finally alone, she looks at each one. "And then she sees it. An oil rendering of a man with a celestial globe . . . it was Vermeer's 'Astronomer.'” She's shocked when, on the back of the painting, she sees the name Rothschild crossed out and replaced by a Swastika, the Nazi symbol. She looks at others and finds the same thing. She hears footsteps. It's Madame Valland. "This room is for what they call 'degenerate art’ . . . I have named it 'Salle des Martyrs.'" (The Room of Martyrs). "It was as if the walls of the gallery had spoken—or the women in the paintings, or the artists behind the paintings—telling Eliane that nothing was as it seemed, and that she would have to discover for herself how to find answers when questions were not permitted."

Von Behr tells her he wants her to catalogue the paintings with the help of Konig. She quickly learns that neither Konig nor von Behr know anything about cataloguing. She convinces Konig to leave her alone with the paintings, and he complies. Meanwhile, France falls under German rule, and it's not safe to roam the streets. Food is scarce, and Eliane is always hungry and cold.

One evening, there's a knock on her apartment door. Two German soldiers burst in with heavy boots and haul her sisters away. Luc is hiding in his room so he is spared. She finds out that Luc is giving information about France's plight to the Resistance to send to the Allies.

Rose tells Eliane to meet her at the apartment of M. Jaujard, who tells her that the Jews have no rights "Like cattle. They are outside all law, including the Hague Convention. Thus their property is no one's. Which means it can be confiscated by the Germans." Eliane wonders how it feels to be treated like cattle just because of the God you worship. 

Eliane finds out from Konig that a Goring catalogue is kept in his office. She takes a chance, finds it, and begins to copy some pages with their codes. She meets Rose secretly in a park after work and shows it to her. They devise a plan to decode the Germans' notes and smuggle the information to the Resistance, hoping that the artworks would eventually be returned to their original owners. Eliane begins the dangerous game of pretending to love Konig so that she could do her clandestine work. However, in her own apartment, she can freely express her hatred for the Nazis and will never forgive them for taking away her family. However, Eliane still firmly believes that art will liberate France and is determined to do her part to save it, no matter how dangerous the mission. She knows that she will be killed if she's discovered.

There's excitement in the air at the Jeu de Paume. Hermann Goring, Reichsmarshall, (Hitler's right-hand man), is coming to see an exhibition of the stolen paintings so that he and Hitler will choose some for themselves. Eliane serves champagne. She drops a bottle when she sees Xavier dressed in Nazi uniform marching beside Goring and von Behr. Is he betraying her again? Could this gentle young man actually become a Nazi? Listening to their conversation, she learns that Xavier is their art expert and is sent all over Europe to buy art for the Nazis.

At home, Eliane can't stop crying. A knock on the door shakes her up. It's Angelique, who tells her that the rest of the family has been killed but she managed to escape. Eliane tries to keep secret her clandestine activities to protect her younger sister. However, Angelique finds out and helps bring information to the Resistance.

Meanwhile, von Behr decides to throw a party at Cap Ferrat at the Riviera House, owned by Xavier. He makes it clear that Eliane will have to sleep with Konig. Rose looks at her askance and Luc berates her for selling her body to the enemy. "How much more would she have to endure for the promise of a future in which awe and wonder survived?" At the Riviera House, when Xavier gets a chance to speak to her alone, he hands her a sleeping potion to put in Konig's drink at supper. In the morning, Konig believes that he actually has slept with Eliane. Why is Xavier trying to protect her? "He had done so many things that she had not seen and now she saw them all . . ." Who was the real Xavier? Could she trust him or will he betray her again?

"Summer, with its warm weather and the possibility of the Allies invading France and saving all the people and all the paintings, couldn't come soon enough."

In 2005, Remi has no idea from whom she inherited The Riviera House. The only information she has about her parents is that her father was German and her mother English. They were both shot when they tried to escape across the Berlin Wall. The house is a mansion surrounded by gardens, a waterfall, and a lake. Remi, a fashion designer by profession, decides to open her own business selling vintage clothing, called "Remi's Closet." She travels all over Europe to find these treasures. She hires a photographer to take photos of her modeling her clothing, sending them to fashion magazines and selling them. Her business takes off and she becomes well-known in the world of fashion.

Remi intends to live as a recluse, wallowing in guilt and grief over her husband's and daughter's tragic deaths that could have been avoided. If only she could have picked up Ebony from school that day instead of asking her busy husband. The car crash that fateful day destroyed her will to live. Why does she have the right to enjoy life? Her daughter's life was snuffed out at such a young age. She will never become an adult, know the pleasure of having friends, graduating from university, or even marrying.

One day, while sitting on the balcony, she notices a group of people heading toward her. They excuse themselves for interrupting her and introduce themselves as the Henry-Joneses family who are renting the house across the street. Eventually, she meets Adam, the youngest, who tells her that his parents, Judy and Alister, insisted that they come together to heal. She learns that Adam's older brother, Matt, lost his wife and is left with a three-year-old daughter, Molly. She recognizes Adam as one of the photographers of her vintage fashions.

She befriends them and invites the whole family to her home to see her clothing. Molly starts playing with one of her most expensive dresses and tears it. Matt does nothing to discipline Molly but offers to make amends by inviting Remi to a party at their house that evening. "One small thing at a time, Remi told herself at eight o'clock that night. For now, all she had to do was find something to wear." Lauren, Adam's sister, loves her fashions and tries on a bathing suit which Remi gives her as a present.

Remi is beginning to feel like a person again, and she and Adam eventually get to know each other. They have a lot in common such as their philosophy of life, living through loss and books. Adam tells her that Matt is not Molly's real father. Since his wife couldn't conceive, Adam offered his semen. He's her real father rather than her uncle. He was supposed to give up Molly but can't. He loves her as much as Molly loves her uncle Adam. Matt becomes angry at Adam every time he plays with her in the lake. This situation is what gives Judy and Alister the idea to come to a quiet place on the French Riviera to heal the rift between Matt and Adam.

Eventually Remi warms up to the Henry-Joneses family and begins to relax. She hires Adam to photograph herself modeling her own fashions, and she's satisfied with his work. She and Adam become more intimate friends, and she's finally able to confide in him about the car accident. One day, Remi tells him that she's driving to Paris to buy vintage clothing at the flea markets. Adam offers to accompany her. When the rest of his family find out, they all insist on coming along. Adam and Remi go alone to a flea market where Remi buys some vintage clothing an Adam buys books. Suddenly, they both see a book titled: 'Le Catalogue Goring: L'Histoire insenseé de la plus grande collection d'art jamais volée.' "The unbelievable story of the greatest of all art thefts."

Adam tells Remi that he has heard about this catalogue. As he's flicking through it, the book suddenly falls open. Remi's eyes fall on the new page, and she freezes. "Why would that be in Goring's catalogue?"

She shows Adam a painting on this page of a couple embracing and holding a gaze that shows hurt, love, and loss. Remi tells Adam that this painting has been on the wall of her bedroom in Sydney for as long as she can remember. "But how do I have in my possession a painting that Hermann Goring stole seventy years ago from someone in France?"

Remi's and Adam's journey to discover the mystery of the painting leads them to Paris, New York, and Washington. Lauren sends them to Chloe, a librarian, who may be able to give her a clue. Chloe shows Remi the same painting in another catalogue and tells her that it's titled: "The Traitor" and is signed by Luc Dufort. After several hours of looking through microfilm in Washington, Adam discovers a reference to this painting and Luc Dufort. Remi begins to wonder whether what she knows of her family is not the whole truth. "Why had she come to Washington? Why hadn't she stayed at Cap-Ferrat?" Does she really want to know the history of her parents and this painting?

Remi and Adam find out that there is an Elke König, living in Washington. At her apartment, Elke tells them that she was Ernst Konig's wife and that he has been dead for 20 years. Eliane and Ernst had a son named Alexandre. Remi runs out. The shock of realizing that her grandparents were Nazis is too much to bear. Why hadn't she stayed at Cap-Ferrat? Does she still want this painting stolen by her grandparents from Jews on her bedroom wall?

Read the book to find out the truth and how Eliane's and Remi's life become interlocked.

The author uses the effective technique of going back and forth between the period of WWII and 70 years later, linking the lives of Eliane Dufort and Remi Lang. Although this book's genre is listed as historical fiction, Baron von Behr and Hermann Goring were prominent Nazis who considered the paintings in the Salle des Martyrs at the Jeu se Paume "degenerate art" and stole them for themselves and for Hitler. Jacques Jaujard worked closely with the Resistance. Rose Valland risked her life to rescue thousands of stolen paintings. Her rescue operation was called "The Monuments Men."

A riveting story for all those who are a fan of historical fiction and the issue of art stolen by the Nazis.