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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Capturing historical events, terrifying moments of danger, tragedy, the price of war, and the invincible spirit of a woman of honor, The Award is a monumental tale from one of our most gifted storytellers—Danielle Steel’s finest, most emotionally resonant novel yet.
Gaëlle de Barbet is sixteen years old in 1940 when the German army occupies France and frightening changes begin to occur. She is shocked and powerless when French gendarmes take away her closest friend, Rebekah Feldmann, and her family for deportation to an unknown, ominous fate.
The local German military commandant makes Gaëlle’s family estate outside Lyon into his headquarters. Her father and brother are killed by the Germans; her mother fades away into madness. Trusted friends and employees become traitors. And Gaëlle begins a perilous journey with the French Resistance, hoping to save lives to make up for the beloved friend she could do nothing to help.
Taking terrifying risks, Gaëlle becomes a valuable member of the Resistance, fearlessly delivering Jewish children to safety under the eyes of the Gestapo and their French collaborators. Then she is suddenly approached by the German commandant with an astonishing, dangerous plan to save part of France’s artistic heritage. Conducted in secret, flawlessly carried out, her missions will mark her for years, when she is falsely accused of collaboration at the end of the war. Orphaned and alone, she begins a new life in Paris, with the ghosts of the past always close at hand.
Gaëlle’s life will take her from Paris to New York, from a career as a Dior model to marriage and motherhood, unbearable loss, and mature, lasting love. She returns to Paris to run a small museum, honoring victims of the Holocaust. But her label as a collaborator remains, until her granddaughter, a respected political journalist, ensures that her grandmother’s brave acts are recognized. Now a grateful nation will finally absolve this remarkable woman and honor her as the war hero she was.
Under the Cover
An excerpt from The Award
Delphine Lambert, a dark-haired, serious young woman, was reading Le Figaro intently in her apartment on the rue du Cherche-Midi on the Left Bank in Paris, on New Year’s Day. She was reading a list carefully, as she did every year on that day, and had for several years. At twenty-nine, a political journalist and historian, she had two books to her credit that had done well, and frequently published articles in the press. Her long straight hair concealed part of her face as she pored over the newspaper, as Georges Poitier, the man she lived with, watched her and smiled. He had already guessed what she was reading. She had been chasing a dream since she was seventeen years old.
“What are you looking for?” he asked her gently. The list was published twice a year, on New Year’s Day, and the fourteenth of July.
“You know . . . my grandmother,” she answered without looking up, not wanting to lose her place. There were five hundred names on the list, and she feared that the name she hoped to see wouldn’t be on it yet again. It hadn’t been so far, despite all of Delphine’s efforts for the past dozen years, and she had worked tirelessly on the project. “How long are they going to wait?” she muttered, fearing disappointment again. Her grandmother, Gaëlle de Barbet Pasquier, was ninety-five years old, and she was far less concerned about it than her granddaughter, to whom it had become a sacred cause. The list was of the upcoming recipients of the Légion d’Honneur, the most distinguished award in France.
Gaëlle had never expected to be decorated, and had none of the aspirations Delphine had for her, and thought it entirely unnecessary. Delphine insisted it was only right. The entire family knew how hard Delphine had worked to get her grandmother exonerated and recognized. Gaëlle was at peace about her life. The events she would have been acknowledged for were all so long ago, during the war. They were chapters of her life that were a distant memory now. Gaëlle rarely thought about it, except when Delphine questioned her, which she seldom did anymore. She knew the whole story, and her grandmother’s bravery had been a powerful motivating force in her life, and an inspiration to her. Her grandmother was a shining example of everything Delphine thought a human being should be. And whether the government came to its senses, righted the wrongs of the past, and honored her or not, she was a hero in Delphine’s eyes, and had been to countless others during the Occupation of France seventy-nine years before.
And then, as she read, Delphine sat still for an instant, and her eyes flew open wide. She read it again, to be sure she had seen it correctly, and she looked at Georges across the breakfast table with amazement.
“Oh my God . . . it’s there . . . she’s on it!” It had finally happened. All her letters and years of careful research, and haranguing every member of the chancellery she could lay hands on, had finally done it. Her grandmother was being decorated with the distinguished Legion of Honor Medal, as a knight.
There were tears in Delphine’s eyes as she looked at Georges, and her hand was shaking as she showed him the newspaper. Gaëlle de Barbet Pasquier. She read it over and over to be sure there was no mistake. It was there at last. He smiled broadly at her, and leaned over to kiss her, knowing how hard she had worked for that. And her grandmother knew it too, and had always said it was a futile project. And now it had finally happened, thanks to Delphine.
“Bravo! Good work,” he said, proud of her. There was no question that her grandmother was an amazing woman, and now the world would know it, as her countrymen recognized her.
Delphine got up from the table a minute later to call her. She could hardly wait to get her on the phone and tell her. She was sure that her grandmother hadn’t bothered to read the paper that morning, or pounce on it as she had. Gaëlle hadn’t been optimistic about it. She had always said it would never be possible. And Delphine had proved her wrong. Persistence had finally won the prize.
Her hands were still shaking as she called the cellphone she had given her grandmother, and it went straight to voicemail, as it did most of the time.
“She never uses the cellphone I gave her,” Delphine complained to Georges over her shoulder. Her grandmother claimed it was too complicated and she didn’t need it, and preferred to use her phone at home. Delphine called that number next, and let it ring for a long time, in case she was busy or in the bath. There was no answer on that line either, the message machine was off, and Delphine went back to the breakfast table in total frustration. She couldn’t wait to tell her that it had finally happened.
“She probably went to church this morning,” Georges reminded her.
“Or she’s walking the dog. I’ll try her again in a few minutes.” But she had no greater success ten minutes or half an hour later. Delphine didn’t know how she would contain herself until she reached her, and she finally called her mother instead, who was as thrilled as her daughter and burst into tears when she heard the news. It had been their fondest hope for her, however modest she was about her accomplishments. And it frustrated both of them not to be able to find her. But despite her age, Gaëlle was healthy and independent, an early riser, and usually had plans that took her out for the day or the evening. She was in remarkably good shape, of sound mind and body, and she enjoyed seeing friends, going to museums or the theater, or taking long walks with her dog in her neighborhood or along the Seine.
“I’ll call her later,” Delphine told her mother, and went back to stare at the list again, to make sure that her grandmother’s name was still there and it hadn’t been an illusion. It was the culmination of a dream, for all of them, and so greatly deserved by Gaëlle.
Gaëlle Pasquier had risen early that morning, as she always did. She did her stretching exercises, made toast and a large cup of café au lait, which she savored with pleasure, enjoying her daily habits. She bathed and brushed her well-cut snow-white hair, which she wore in a chic bob that framed her aristocratic features, and then dressed to visit her friend Louise. They both lived in the Seventh Arrondissement, and it was a healthy walk from the Place du Palais Bourbon, where Gaëlle lived in a small but elegant apartment, to Louise’s home on the rue de Varenne. Gaëlle’s neighborhood was fashionable, but the building wasn’t showy. She had beautiful paintings, and the apartment was decorated with handsome antiques. The atmosphere she created was warm and inviting, and when she went out, she took her small long-haired brown dachshund Josephine with her. Gaëlle and the dog were inseparable, her grandchildren had given it to her, and Josephine was instantly ecstatic when she saw her leash and Gaëlle put it on her, talking to her gently, and promising her a nice walk.
Despite her age, Gaëlle lived alone and had no problem doing so. A housekeeper came in the daytime during the week, but she cooked her own dinner, and as often as possible went out with friends. She had finally retired seven years before at eighty-eight, and had been reluctant to do so. She had loved her job as curator of a small, distinguished museum that she had helped establish and had been devoted to for almost fifty years.
She saw all the important new art exhibits in Paris, and usually went with her friend Louise, who was ten years younger, and in excellent health too. Louise had a daughter who lived in India and a son in Brazil, so she was grateful for Gaëlle’s company, and the two women had been friends for fifty-seven years, since Gaëlle came back to France, after living in New York for sixteen years. Louise had been a patron of the museum Gaëlle had helped to set up, and they had been devoted friends and allies ever since.
Gaëlle had two daughters, one in New York and one in Paris, and three grandchildren. She was luckier than Louise, with family nearby. Louise only saw her children and grandchildren once a year when she traveled to see them, but was a cheerful person nonetheless. Her husband had been in the diplomatic corps, and they had lived abroad in their youth too.
Gaëlle’s older daughter was an investment banker and financial wizard like her late father, in New York. And her younger daughter, Daphne, was an obstetrician, married to a cardiologist, and they both loved their work. They were busy but invited Gaëlle to join them whenever she wished. She always said she didn’t want to intrude on them, and managed to keep busy with her own activities and friends, most of whom were younger than she, since few people her age were as active as she was, and still as engaged in the world.
Gaëlle’s granddaughter, Delphine, was a journalist, her younger brother was in medical school, studying to become a doctor like their parents, and the youngest grandson was in business school at HEC, the best school of its kind. Gaëlle was proud of all of them.
She had fun with Louise, and they planned activities and trips together and occasionally went away for weekends, to see an art exhibit in Rome or an opera in Vienna, or to attend some cultural event in London or Madrid, or to walk on the boardwalk in Deauville. Gaëlle still managed to lead an interesting life, more so at times even than her younger friends. She walked with a firm step, as she headed toward Louise’s home on the rue de Varenne, with Josephine on her leash, trotting along beside her. Gaëlle always liked the idea of a new year, and said it gave her much to look forward to. She had a positive attitude about life, and lived in the present rather than the past. She saw no benefit in dwelling on what lay behind her and preferred to look ahead.
She still had a lithe figure, and an eye for fashion, although she dressed conservatively and appropriately for her age. And something about her style and the way she put herself together was decidedly French, despite the sixteen years she had lived in the States. She was unmistakably Parisian to her core.
When Gaëlle reached Louise’s street, she walked past the Rodin Museum and Matignon, and stopped in front of the heavy old doors, painted a shiny dark green, outside Louise’s home. She lived in one of the grand old eighteenth-century houses with an interior courtyard, carriage stalls that had been turned into garages, an elegant home, and a well-tended garden. The guardian opened the heavy outer doors when Gaëlle pounded the brass knocker, and greeted her politely. And a maid answered when she walked up the front steps and rang the doorbell of the house. She left her coat in the front hall, and took off Josephine’s leash, who bounded into the living room where Louise was sitting by the fire with her impeccably groomed white Pekingese Fifi at her feet. The two dogs were thrilled to see each other and began playing immediately, and Louise smiled broadly when Gaëlle walked in.
Danielle Steel has been hailed as one of the world’s most popular authors, with over 650 million copies of her novels sold. Her many international bestsellers include Past Perfect, Fairytale, The Right Time, The Duchess, Against All Odds, Dangerous Games, The Mistress, and other highly acclaimed novels. She is also the author of His Bright Light, the story of her son Nick Traina’s life and death; A Gift of Hope, a memoir of her work with the homeless; Pure Joy, about the dogs she and her family have loved; and the children’s books Pretty Minnie in Paris and Pretty Minnie in Hollywood.