Synopses & Reviews
On a pier in Marseille in 1942, with desperate refugees pressing to board one of the last ships to escape France before the Nazis choked off its ports, an 18-year-old German Jewish girl was pried from the arms of the Catholic Frenchman she loved and promised to marry. As the Lipari
carried Janine and her family to Casablanca on the first leg of a perilous journey to safety in Cuba, she would read through her tears the farewell letter that Roland had slipped in her pocket: “Whatever the length of our separation, our love will survive it, because it depends on us alone. I give you my vow that whatever the time we must wait, you will be my wife. Never forget, never doubt.”
Five years later – her fierce desire to reunite with Roland first obstructed by war and then, in secret, by her father and brother – Janine would build a new life in New York with a dynamic American husband. That his obsession with Ayn Rand tormented their marriage was just one of the reasons she never ceased yearning to reclaim her lost love.
Investigative reporter Leslie Maitland grew up enthralled by her mother’s accounts of forbidden romance and harrowing flight from the Nazis. Her book is both a journalist’s vivid depiction of a world at war and a daughter’s pursuit of a haunting question: what had become of the handsome Frenchman whose picture her mother continued to treasure almost fifty years after they parted? It is a tale of memory that reporting made real and a story of undying love that crosses the borders of time.
A true story of love lost during World War II and then found again fifty years later when a daughter’s investigative journey reunites her mother with her teenage sweetheart.
Leslie Maitland, a former reporter for The New York Times, returned to Europe throughout the nineties in search of her mother’s lost love. She was possessed by a history that was not her own and with questions that remained unanswered for more than fifty years. What had happened to Roland Arcieri in the time since the madness of war and the Holocaust had separated him from his young fiancée? What had happened to this Frenchman whose picture she had so often seen secretly tucked in her mother’s purse? Maitland was propelled to seek out answers and a new future for her mother that would either bring closure or the promise of a reunion.
About the Author
Leslie Maitland is a former New York Times reporter who specialized in legal affairs and investigative reporting. She joined the Times after graduating from the University of Chicago and the Harvard Divinity School. After breaking stories on the FBI’s undercover “Abscam” inquiry into corruption in Congress, she moved to the New York Times Washington Bureau to cover the Justice Department. After leaving the Times, she began, among other projects, extensive research for this book, including five reporting trips to Europe and one to Cuba. She has frequently participated in programs discussing literature on The Diane Rehm Show on National Public Radio. Maitland lives with her husband in Bethesda, Maryland.
Reading Group Guide
What was the impetus that began Leslie Maitland’s search for her mother’s long lost lover? Do you have any unanswered questions about your family’s past?
How are Roland and Leonard different from each other, and how does Janine’s memory of Roland affect her relationship with her husband? Do you think she shared too much information with her husband and her children about her romantic past? Were Leonard’s infidelities a reflection of his character or the mores of the times; or were they a bid for attention from Janine, or even an effort to retaliate for Roland’s persistent shadow in their marriage?
Crossing the Borders of Time is deeply rooted in WWII history and the Holocaust. How does Leslie Maitland use Janine’s story to reflect the differing attitudes toward the rise of Nazism, anti-Semitism, and various other prejudices? Did you learn anything about WWII history that you didn’t know before?
In 1989, the Maitland family returned to Freiburg, where Jewish former citizens were invited to return to their birthplace. What do you think about this attempt at reconciliation or atonement? What did you think of their encounters on this and later trips with figures from the family’s past?
How does Leslie Maitland’s background as a New York Times investigative reporter help her tell this story? Do you think a reporter is better equipped than a novelist to write this kind of book?
After fleeing France, the Günzburger family was exiled and displaced in Cuba, before eventually gaining entry into the United States. How is this similar or different from other Jewish refugee stories that you’ve heard? Were you surprised to learn that the United States accepted so few refugees from Hitler-dominated Europe and that Leonard felt obliged to change his last name in response to anti-Semitism in American business circles?
What did you think of Janine’s relationship with her family – of her obedient decision to remain in New York after the war rather than return to France, and of her silent acceptance of Sigmar’s and Norbert’s efforts to thwart her marrying Roland?
Roland and Janine were separated and reunited through a mixture of historical and personal forces. How do you think their separation altered their perceptions of each other, and of love in general? How did you react to the difficult compromises that they made at the ending? What solution to their situation would you have advised for them?