The Contrescarpe



She killed three people and got away with it each time. She made no effort to cover her tracks. Others did that for her. Vera, a wealthy art dealer in Brooklyn, finally put her account of the slayings on paper and stipulated her statement be released only after her death. It fell into the hands of the police but too late for criminal charges to be laid against her.

It was unlikely she would have been prosecuted anyway given the circumstances that drove her to act. She took a life for the first time as a terrified 15-year-old in the death camps in 1945; the second in a blind rage against a young German in Paris in 1961; the third, in the mercy killing of the person she loved the most in her life.

The Paris murder took place in a tiny square on the city’s Left Bank, the Place de la Contrescarpe, which lies at the heart of a narrative that threads its way between people and events over five decades. In the mix are massacres on the streets of Algiers in the final weeks of Algeria’s struggle for independence; the flight of Spanish Republicans to France after the fall of Barcelona in 1939 and dangerous nights in brothels in Algiers and Saigon. But also tangled love affairs in Paris, raw emotion, wrong choices and a failed quest for absolution.

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