simone van der vlugt

De Guillotine

De guillotine by Simone van der VlugtSandrine de Billancourt grows up in a noble family in the heart of Paris, during the French Revolution. When the people of France finally come for them, Sandrine manages to escape but her parents come to die. With nowhere to go she finds shelter at a local shoe shop where the family who resides there takes her in. But not everyone inside that family is friendly towards her noble self. Philippe, the oldest son, is pro-revolution and doesn’t like the fact that his family is hiding a noble born. 
And to make things even worse, Sandrine comes face to face with Nicolas (the son of one of her father’s farmers). The boy is just as hostile as Philippe but noth for long. 

During a full on revolution in which Sandrine has to hide her nobility, Philippe and Nicolas wage a whole different kind of war.

I read this book time and again when I was young (not that I’m old now but … you know….) and it’s been on my shelves for ages. But ever since I started reading English books I never touched this one again. Which is too bad because it’s a really great read.

Although the switch between languages took some getting used to, the story was easy to pick up. I knew it by heart after reading it so many times before but it surprised me still. It was a good choice, not reading it for a long while, because there were many things that I had forgotten.

De Guillotine is about a young girl of sixteen who was born into a noble home during the beginnings of the French Revolution. For anyone who doesn’t know what that revolution was all about, this is the gist of it:
During the French Revolution, the commoners of France refused to be treated poorly by those above them after they had to suffer through a very cold and extensive winter that took many lives. in this uprally the masses of France started to throw stones at nobility and eventually they overran the famous Bastille prison that held commoner prisoners. After that, nobles weren’t safe anymore on the streets of Paris. They couldn’t go outside without being mobbed by people, stolen from or vandalised. The biggest achievement of the French Revolution was the beheading of king Louis and later on his wife Marie-Antoinette.
The people of France were reunited below the slang: “Egalité, Fraternité et Liberté.

That said, let’s get back to our story. When the revoluting masses of Paris start to rise up, Sandrine and her family is just about to retreat to their summer home in Poissy but things are getting tense over there too. So when their summer home is being attacked by angry townsmen with burning torches and raised pitchforks, the family has to move back to Paris.

After being in Paris for a while things seem to have cooled down a bit but then the National Garde (a sort of army chosen by the commoners) begins to raid homes in search of nobles. And so they reach the home of De Billancourts. It’s a few moments after diner that Julie, the maid, hides Sandrine behind a hatch in a closet. Sandrine, hidden away from everyone, listens to her parents being dragged from their home as well as her sister and Julie.
Sandrine is the only one left behind and she has only one place to go to. A few years back she saved a little boy from death after he was trampled by horses. He was the son of a shoe maker and lived in the city’s centre. If Sandrine’s lucky, the family might remember her and be willing to hide her from the National Garde.

And they do.

Sandrine De Billancourt transforms into Sandrine Lambertin, the niece of the Lambertins who came to Paris after her parents died during the winter. Most people buy into the story but some of the neighbours are suspicious of the new girl. She’s too refined for their taste and she speaks too posh. With the aid of Philippe, who was strongly against her arrival at first, Sandrine manages to get by and survive the scrutinee of those around her.
But then Nicolas arrives in Paris. A boy Sandrine knows all too well. He is the son of one of her father’s farmers and he has every reason to hate her…. but he doesn’t. Instead he’s the one who supports her and keeps her from bowing her head down. He becomes her beacon through all the darkness that surrounds her after finding out her parents and sister were murdered by angry and hungry citizens. And that might just be her undoing.

Even though the writing is a bit childlike at times, the book was really easy to get into. It’s not too dense with information about the Revolution, although you have to have a certain map of Paris in your head since the author uses a lot of street names that are otherwise unfamiliar to the reader (to any reader who doesn’t live in Paris, that is). That’s why -at least my copy does- the book comes with a handy map of Paris with place names and street names from that time period. That aside, the story is truly incredible. It’s exciting, it’s sad but also funny and witty.

The only ‘bad’ thing about this story is some of the character development. Unfortunately, we don’t see enough from certain characters to believe the growth they’re experiencing. Philippe, otherwise a very strong character, goes from hostile to being charming and protective towards Sandrine and I missed the turning point for him. I’d like to see the reason why he starts to care for Sandrine but there’s not a clear turning point. It probably has something to do with Sandrine’s transformation but still… I would’ve liked to see more. When we got to read some of Nicolas’ POV, I hoped we could get a fragment of Philippe’s POV but sadly that didn’t play out.
I was happy with the Nicolas’ POV, though. It made sense to switch POV’s at that point since he and Sandrine got separated and the ending wouldn’t have made sense otherwise.

I rated this book 5 stars out of 5. It’s one of the best books I have read in the Dutch language. It saddens me that there isn’t a translation of it because it does deserve some attention. It explores a piece of history that hasn’t been brought forward in history books in school or something while it’s a huge part of European history and it shouldn’t be forgotten.

With love,


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