By STEVE PFARRER
Daily Hampshire Gazette
Published: 5/27/2022 5:09:10 PM
‘I love Paris in the springtime,” Ella Fitzgerald once sang, and why not? A glass of wine in a cafe, flowers and budding trees along the Seine, the Eiffel Tower before the summer crowds take over — and perhaps the prospect of love itself, especially if you’re young, foreign, and thrilled with the idea of living in France.
But in “The Caretakers” (William Morrow/Harper Collins), the debut novel of a young writer with Valley ties, Paris and its surrounding suburbs is a more complicated place, not quite in keeping with the romantic image of the City of Light.
In writing “The Caretakers,” an Amazon Best Book of April, Amanda Bestor-Siegal has drawn on her own experience living in and around Paris for four years, including working as an au pair, to create a suspenseful story that examines class differences, the challenges of working and living in a foreign country, and the strange situation young women face in caring for the children of well-to-do parents: living with families but not really being a part of them.
Bestor-Siegal grew up in Washington, D.C., and now lives in Texas, where she received an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. But over the past several summers, she wrote a good chunk of her novel in Hadley, where her father now lives.
Some of her family connections here go back decades; her late grandfather, Charles Bestor, was a composer and head of the Department of Music and Dance at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
In a recent phone interview, Bestor-Siegal joked that she wanted to give “a big shout-out” to Barstow’s Dairy Store and Bakery in Hadley, which gave her a regular, quiet place to write for hours while she was visiting her father, who lives nearby. When Barstow’s was closed for a stretch during the pandemic, she hiked to the top of Mount Holyoke and wrote in the picnic area, or she’d write in the barn on the nearby property of the Thayers, her father’s cousins.
“I first started writing the book about 2015, when I was living in France, but a lot of it was finished in Hadley,” she said.
“The Caretakers” is centered on six major characters: three American au pairs working in Maisons-LaRue, a somewhat snooty suburb of Paris; a French woman, Charlotte Chauvet, who employs one of the au pairs, Alena, and has a strained relationship with her children; Charlotte’s lonely and depressed teenage daughter, Nathalie; and Géraldine, a French teacher who runs a class for the au pairs.