In Pursuit of Abraham – First Chapter

Posted by on January 9, 2012

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In Pursuit of Abraham

A novel by Francine Fuqua

Preface

I flew to my native France in 1980 to visit my maternal grandmother as she was nearing the end of her life. As I was ready to leave to return to America, she handed me a voluminous folder. It contained over four hundred type written pages, yellow with age, many torn and covered with corrections and strike-outs in ink. She said, “This is an unfinished novel that Pépère began writing in 1943 while he was idle by the war. Many pages are missing. I would like for you to finish it and get it published.”

I glanced at the title with surprise: From Sarah to Esther—The Great Jewish Heroines of the Old Testament. I never knew my grandmother or her husband, Georges Falcoz-Vigne, to be religious. I did know he was a scholar, with an avid interest in ancient history but his choice of subject for his novel was not characteristic of him.

She explained that he had visited synagogues and museums and met members of the Jewish community in Paris, thereby attracting the suspicion and wrath of the SS who, in 1943, were focused on eliminating the Jewish race. Afraid for her safety, my grandfather decided to leave France clandestinely, with help from the French Resistance, and he went to the Middle East for a few months to complete his research.

Pépère’s manuscript lay in a drawer in my home for years as life, work and family took precedence. I finally got around to reading his work a couple years ago and was spellbound. It was beautifully written in French, and I was transported back thirty five-hundred years into the world of Abraham and Sarah. I simply couldn’t allow this incredible amount of work and beautiful prose to be lost forever. I also realized that in the sixty-five years since my grandfather had written his manuscript, many discoveries had been made; many books written and movies filmed on the subject of Abraham and his clan, and it would not be as relevant today.

So I decided to write my own novel, loosely based on my grandfather’s own experience. Some sixty-three years later, on another continent and in another language, my grandfather’s work is now published as he co-authors parts of this book. I have translated more than twenty pages of his manuscript from the French and incorporated them into “In Pursuit of Abraham“. As you follow the lives and love of Abraham and Sarah, you are reading the words written long ago by Georges Falcoz-Vigne. He was only my grandfather by marriage, but I loved him dearly.

Somewhere, Pépère must be smiling—happy to get some recognition, and perhaps a little sorry that his own experience as he visited the Middle East wasn’t quite as exciting as the protagonist in this novel.

Pépère, this book is for you.

Francine Fuqua

Chapter One: A Dilemma

Paris, France November 1943

The pale October sun disappeared behind the rooftops and the graceful steeple of St-Eustache church. A shiver ran between Suzanne Moncel’s shoulders and down her back. She closed the window and went to the stove to heat water for a cup of tea, only to discover the canister was nearly empty. Georges will need to make his black market run soon, she thought. A loud knock at the door startled her. Her husband wasn’t due back before nightfall, and visitors were rare these days.

She edged the door open and her heart sank as she stared into the faces of two German officers and a short, stocky man whose face was almost hidden beneath a large felt hat.

“We’re here to see Dr. Georges Moncel,” said the short man, obviously French.

“What’s this about? Who are you, Monsieur?”

“I’m Gaston Berger, Madame Moncel. We need a few minutes with your husband.”

She recognized him as he lifted his head. Mr. Berger had been a philosophy professor at the university of which her husband was president in Orléans. What’s he doing here with two German officers? “Why are you here, Monsieur Berger? You work for the Germans now?”

The Frenchman looked away in obvious discomfort. “I’m here as an interpreter, Madame Moncel, and yes, I do work for the Germans. I’ve a family to feed. When the university closed after the bombardments, I had to find other employment. I’m sure this is only a misunderstanding that can be cleared up promptly if we can talk to Doctor Moncel.”

Suzanne didn’t see the need to let the three men know she spoke fluent German. “Tell the officers my husband isn’t here; I don’t know when he’ll return. Why do they wish to speak with him?”

The Frenchman stammered. “There are reports he’s involved with Jews. The SS isn’t very patient and this is serious. You must tell him to contact their headquarters at once.” He handed her a card. “Here’s the address.”

“Tell the officers I’ll have my husband get in touch with them when he returns, but I’m not sure when that will be.”

Gaston Berger turned to the officers and told them in rather poor German, “The woman says she has no idea when her husband will return. I believe she’s lying.”

Suzanne brushed a strand of hair from her forehead to conceal her anger, but since she was pretending not to understand German she ignored the Frenchman.

The officers looked at her with cold, steely eyes, pushed past her, and searched the apartment thoroughly, looking under the bed and behind the curtains. The door to her husband’s office was locked. They kicked it open and went in, but came out quickly and spoke tersely to the Frenchman.

Gaston Berger turned to Suzanne. “They say your Jew-loving husband must come to their headquarters as soon as he returns or we’ll be back.”

The Germans snapped their heels together and left, followed by the Frenchman.

Suzanne’s legs felt like cotton beneath her and her mouth was parched. She sank into the sofa. This is a horrible mistake! We don’t know any Jews! But she suddenly realized that she’d never bothered to ask her husband what he did during all those hours behind the closed doors of his office, or where he went when he left the apartment all day, as he had today.

She walked to the window to see whether the Germans were waiting for him in front of the building, but the boulevard was deserted. The only signs of life were filtering up from the bar down the street, no doubt full of German soldiers and dissolute French women she would rather not think about.

Her thoughts returned to her husband. Georges isn’t a political man. Surely, he hasn’t involved himself with the Jews, especially now that they’re relentlessly pursued by Hitler’s army and face deportation or worse.

They spent their evenings with a few neighbors, huddled around a radio listening to the British Broadcasting Company to find out what was happening on the many fronts of this horrible war. In order to weaken the German occupying forces, British and American planes regularly dropped bombs on France’s airports, industrial centers, railways, and ports. Germany responded. Dunkerque, Le Havre and Nantes were all but destroyed. France was in ruins.

I must concentrate on something else. She got up and started to clean their apartment. She loved its high ceiling, wide windows, intricate moldings, and gleaming hardwood floors. The building was originally a luxurious private residence built in the nineteenth century and was just a short walk from Notre Dame, the Sainte Chapelle, the Louvre and the Tuilerie Gardens. But she missed the spacious home and lovely gardens they had left behind in Orléans. German officers were presently occupying it. What will be left of it after the war? After the war … will this war ever end?

When the Americans landed on the North African Coast in December 1941 following the attack on Pearl Harbor, hope that the nightmare would soon end had run high. But now, two years later, the war was still raging and Germany seemed invincible.

She heard footsteps. Have the Germans returned? The door opened. Thank God! It’s Georges!

Her husband entered and went directly to his office; he unlocked a drawer and placed a large folder inside. She followed him.

“Gaston Berger was here this afternoon.”

He looked up in surprise. “Gaston Berger … Professor Berger? Why would he—”

“And he brought two German officers with him.”

Suzanne searched her husband’s face for any sign of fear but saw only surprise.

Georges Moncel was astonished. “What on earth did they want?”

“They suspect you of being a Jew sympathizer. Why would they ever think that, Georges?”

He sat down at his desk and wiped his brow. “I’ve been visiting a few synagogues and the Jewish museum, but it’s strictly a research project. I don’t see why that would upset anyone.”

“Why are you visiting synagogues? What are you doing, Georges? You’re not religious. Why would you visit a synagogue?”

“Right now I’m hungry. Please, let’s eat dinner and allow me to rest a few minutes. I walked a lot today and I’m tired. I’ll tell you about my project after dinner. Suffice it to say for now that you’ve nothing to worry about. What’s on the menu tonight?”

She couldn’t believe it. Was he so naïve, so disconnected from the rest of the world, that he didn’t see the danger facing them? How could he think of food when the German police were hunting him down to do God knows what?

She remained calm as she placed a steaming bowl of cabbage soup in front of him. “We need some food, Georges. Our rations won’t be distributed for another four days and we’re out of everything. Can you do a black market run soon?”

“I will, Chérie, I will. I’d have done so already but my contact person is ill. We need to be content with what we can buy with our ration stamps for a few more days.”

“Be content with those horrible rations? You can’t be serious! I can’t live without my hot tea, and I’ll not touch that frightful bread made of sawdust, the flour full of bugs and—”

“Suzanne, ninety per cent of the French population survives on what their rations can buy. We’re among the fortunate few who can afford to go to the black market, and at great risk I must point out. Surely you can manage a few days without your luxuries.”

Tears filled her eyes. Luxuries? He really was out of touch with reality; they did have it a little better than most families, but they hardly lived in luxury.

There was a knock at the door and Suzanne thought the Germans had returned, but it was only a neighbor who informed them that they would turn their radio on to the BBC in a few minutes if they wished to join them to listen to the latest news.

Georges offered his arm. “Are you ready, Chérie?”

“I don’t care about that radio or the news. It’ll be the same as yesterday: bombs, casualties, shortages, and deserters. I’m sick of the whole thing. What I really want right now is to hear about your involvement with Jews.”

“All right; we’ll talk after I listen to the news. At least here in Paris we can do that without fear of reprisal.”

Georges reminded his wife that in Orléans they had to hide the radio under the cabbage patch in the garden. Radios were supposed to be turned in to the Boches along with anything else that could be melted to make bullets. At least, in Paris they didn’t have to concern themselves with that or with the nine o’clock curfews.

How could she forget the curfews? The German army occupied most cities. Their planes were lined up in the airports; their tanks occupied the town squares; their truck convoys were parked on the roads. The Germans didn’t want the Royal Air Force or U.S. planes to know they were flying over a city so they required total darkness at night.

One night they were eating a late supper and didn’t realize the time to extinguish all lighting had passed by just a few minutes. A German soldier, standing in the street below, shot out their light bulb, shattering the window. It had taken her hours to recover from the shock.

Suzanne turned away. “You go alone, Georges. I’m not feeling well. We’ll talk when you return. Give my best to the neighbors.”

As soon as he left the room she lay down with a book, trying to occupy her mind with something other than the war.

When he returned Suzanne was fast asleep and her book lay on the floor. Georges looked at his wife, so vulnerable curled up on the sofa. Even though dark circles lay beneath her eyes, her skin glowed and her dark auburn hair remained thick and luxuriant despite the few silver strands. At nearly fifty she still had the figure of a young girl, slender and supple with wide shoulders and a narrow waist. She was still quite beautiful.

As he observed her, he was surprised to sense a tenderness he hadn’t felt in a long time. He didn’t know when the feelings they shared had changed from love to indifference, nor could he recall the last time they had made love. Was it months ago? Years ago? They had so little in common. She lived in the present and the future and her passion was politics. His passion was ancient history. She looked forward, and he looked backward. They seldom talked anymore; she didn’t understand how he could spend so many hours studying lost civilizations when so much work was needed to tackle the chaotic world they now lived in. Each passing year had widened the gulf between them. He wondered whether this happened with all marriages after twenty years.

Georges worried as he gazed at his wife. She would have difficulty accepting what he had been doing these past few months. He decided to let her sleep and to put off the inevitable confrontation until the next day. He covered her with a blanket and went to his office, closing the door behind him.

The sun was shining as they sat down to breakfast the next morning; another crisp fall day in Paris. Georges smiled at his wife with reassurance. “I didn’t want to wake you up last night. You looked so peaceful. There wasn’t much to report on the news anyway. There’s talk about Churchill, Roosevelt, and Chiang Kai-shek meeting together in Cairo for a conference sometime next month. Maybe there will be some resolution to liberate France.”

Suzanne handed him a cup of coffee. “Please, tell me why you’re visiting synagogues.”

“Well, I decided to begin the novel I’ve always wanted to write. It requires a lot of research. I’ve been visiting museums, libraries, old churches and synagogues for almost three months now.”

Suzanne was surprised. “Oh, you’re writing a novel! What’s your novel about? And what does it have to do with Jews?”

“The title of my manuscript is From Sarah to Esther. It’s about the great Jewish heroines of biblical times.”

Suzanne was astounded. “You can’t be serious! I know you have a passion for ancient civilizations, and writing a novel seems like a great idea while you’re idle, but why would you choose the Old Testament? Are you out of your mind? Why not write about the Romans or the Greeks? Anyone can read about the Old Testament in the various bibles published in many languages. It won’t exactly be new material.”

Would she ever understand? He had to try. “Much more is now known about biblical times. When cuneiform and hieroglyphs writing were deciphered a few decades ago, we learned how the tribe of Abraham lived, what people ate, how they dressed, and the tools they used. These are fascinating details that will bring the characters in the Bible to life.”

Suzanne shrugged. “If you’re interested in that sort of thing, I suppose.”

Georges hid his frustration. “I want to write this book based on the women’s point of view. That’s never been done. These were exceptional women, Suzanne, and they deserve their place in history. There’s evidence their lives were profoundly human and they were very much involved in the key events of their time.”

Suzanne made a dismissive gesture. “Women are always an important factor in the daily lives of a people. Nothing new there!”

Her husband continued. “I’ve also visited several archaeologists. Their recent discoveries in Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia and other sites are amazing and seem to support some of the events depicted in the Bible. My book will cover a lot of new material, believe me.”

“You’re obviously passionate about this,” Suzanne said. “I didn’t think you believed in the Bible. What’s gotten into you? You see nothing wrong in writing a book about Jewish history at a time when the Nazis are talking about their extermination? More than seventeen thousands of them were arrested in Paris in July last year, never to be heard from again. Do you know how many people have been arrested in France because they helped Jews hide or escape?”

Georges shook his head sadly. “I know … too many, one of my colleagues among them. But—”

Suzanne pressed on. “And don’t you remember what happened to the tailor who lived three doors down from us in Orléans? Someone on our street turned him in to the Germans and the next thing we knew he and his family were dragged out of their home and thrown into a truck. We never saw them again, remember? And the next day the Germans returned to pick up all their belongings.”

“Of course, I remember that, but—”

“Georges, you’re putting us in terrible danger. I can’t believe you’d be so insensitive. The SS will not even give you a chance to explain, nor will they care. Disseminating details about the Jews’ origin will be considered inflammatory propaganda.” She turned her back, slamming a towel on the stove.

Georges was silent. He didn’t know what to say, but he knew he couldn’t abandon his project just because the Germans wouldn’t approve or Suzanne was apprehensive. The more involved he became in his research, the more he was intent on finishing it.

“Maybe we need to go back to Orléans,” she suggested. “I’m sure the SS will return looking for you. I’m terrified, Georges. How could you do this to us?”

“I’ll explain the situation to the SS, Suzanne. I’m certain it’ll be all right. Would you like to see what I’ve written so far? I’ve also acquired very old maps. I still have a long way to go, but I think you’d find Sarah’s life story fascinating.”

Suzanne glared at her husband. “No, I want nothing to do with it, and if the Germans return, I’ll pretend that I know nothing at all about this project of yours. You seem to have given little thought to how this might affect my position with the Orléans newspaper. I’m still on their editorial staff, remember? Your head’s in the clouds as usual. I regret to tell you the women of the Bible are of no interest to me whatsoever!” She stormed out of the room and slammed the door.

Early the next morning Georges Moncel left the apartment for an appointment with Jean Breton, one of the curators at the Louvre. He walked down Boulevard Sebastopol and, rather than turning right on Rue de Rivoli, he continued a little farther until he reached the Seine. On his left, the Ile de la Cité with its magnificent monuments and bridges was spectacular. As usual, the sight warmed his heart. As he followed the river in the direction of the Louvre, the war seemed far away.

He entered the museum through a side service entrance where a young woman was sitting at a desk in the dimly lit hallway.

“Bonjour, Mademoiselle. I’m Georges Moncel. I’m here to see Mr. Jean Breton.”

“Bonjour, Monsieur. He’s expecting you but he’s still engaged with a prior appointment. He’ll be with you shortly. May I offer you some coffee?”

“Non, merci.” He sat down and picked up a magazine.

The receptionist stared at him, but he didn’t notice. Where have I seen him before? He looks familiar and so handsome. I know I’ve seen him, but where? She kept looking at him. He was tall and lean, with broad shoulders and a trim waist. His hair was black and slicked back, with just a hint of silver around the temple. But it was his eyes that attracted her attention; they were the deepest blue she’d ever seen. A trimmed mustache gave some dignity to his sensuous mouth. He looks like a movie star! Then she knew who he’d reminded her of. She had seen an American film Mutiny on the Bounty several years before. The main actor was Marlon Brando, but it was his co-star who had left a big impression on her. His name was Clark Gable. He had made another film at the start of the war—Gone with the Wind—but it hadn’t yet been made available in France. She couldn’t wait to see that film! Yes, he looks like Clark Gable …not quite as dapper as Clark Gable, but rather reserved and dignified.

Her reverie was interrupted by a ring from her boss who was ready to receive the visitor.

Georges followed her through an interminable hallway. The administrative offices of the Louvre didn’t have the grandeur of the exhibition rooms open to the public.

They reached Mr. Breton’s office. He was standing at the door and invited Georges in. Tall and slim, Jean Breton had a mop of unruly red hair, bright blue eyes, thick eyebrows, and an open, friendly face covered with freckles. He indicated a chair. “Have a seat, Georges. It’s a pleasure to see you again. I’ve found a lot more maps for you, as well as a list of all the archaeological sites that have been excavated so far in the Middle East. The war has slowed things down, but I think I’ve enough material here to help you define the region as it was in Abraham’s time.”

Georges sat down and smiled broadly. “I am so grateful for your help, Jean. It makes things much easier for me.”

“No problem. As you know, I’m quite knowledgeable about the area, having lived there for several years while I was an assistant to Professor Montet, the renowned archaeologist. Alas, now that I’m married I’ve had to abandon my nomadic ways. Working in the Louvre is as close as I can get to ancient civilizations.”

Georges laughed. “Being married does change things.”

Jean shook his head and went on. “Doctor Pierre Montet, my mentor, is now the Professor of Egyptology at the University of Strasbourg; he visits here as often as the war permits. Should he come soon, I’ll ask him whether he can provide you with further assistance.”

“You’re too kind, Jean. I appreciate it.”

Jean continued. “Montet is still involved in exploring the ancient Egyptian city of Tanis, where he has made incredible discoveries. He’s also a close friend of André Parrot, the great archaeologist excavating in Mari, Syria. I believe the ancient city of Mari was on the path of Abraham’s exodus to Canaan. If Doctor Montet can get you in touch with André Parrot, it’d be of great help to you.”

“Thank you again, Jean. How can I ever repay you?”

“Just keep in touch. What you’re doing is fascinating. I’m glad to play a small part in it.”

“I’ve encountered a small problem,” Georges said. “The Nazis came to look for me yesterday. They believe I’m involved with Jews. It may slow my progress a little, and my wife is terrified.”

Jean Breton’s face showed immediate concern. “I didn’t think of that. You’re exploring Jewish history, not exactly a popular subject with the Boches! How did they find out? You must be careful, Georges. Tell them you’re working on Egyptian research.”

“How can I explain my many visits to synagogues? I hope to be able to convince them this is only an historical project.”

Jean Breton scratched his chin. “I hear horrible things are happening in the concentration camps in Poland. There’s talk of a systematic extermination of thousands of Jewish men, women, and children. I’ve been told of mass graves and gas chambers.”

Georges frowned. “Don’t you think those are exaggerations? Granted, the Germans are obsessed with removing the Jews from Germany and all the lands Hitler has conquered, and they are harsh and cruel, but they’d never resort to genocide!”

“I’m not so sure, Georges. Some of my sources are quite reliable. Please call me in a few days. Maybe I’ll have heard from Pierre Montet and he’ll be able to provide you with additional assistance. I’ve to go now. Au revoir, mon ami. Please keep in touch.”

Georges left the Louvre, a large envelope secured under his arm. He stopped at a small flower market and bought a bouquet of flowers for Suzanne, then decided to take the back streets to return to the apartment. He looked up and down the boulevard for signs of a German car, but the street was empty.

When he arrived home, he removed a few bricks beneath the window in his office and placed his manuscript and all his maps in the hole. Then he replaced the bricks.

End of Chapter One

I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse of my novel In Pursuit of Abraham. If you would like to review the advance testimonials for my novel they are located on the “In Pursuit of Abraham” page of my website. Should you like to see actual reviews from individuals who have read my novel, there are some reviews shown at Amazon.com. Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think…Author Francine Fuqua.

2 Responses to In Pursuit of Abraham – First Chapter

  1. Herb Bushnell

    Hello, Francine,
    Your writing is very polished and the characters are believable. The dialogue is realistic. There is a real sense of imminent danger that makes one curious to know what will happen next. Thank you for sharing your book with me. If I may say so without appearing importunate, I am sure that your grandfather would be proud. I went ahead and purchased the ebook. It is past 4 A.M. so I must wait to read it this afternoon.
    Herb

    • Francine Fuqua

      Thank you so much, Herb, I appreciate your compliments. When you have finished reading the book, please write a review on Amazon.com. Go to books and put in “In Pursuit of Abraham” that helps me a lot. Have a grest week.

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