Letters exchanged between American and French cousins detail postwar life
by Lynn Lofton
Published: November 20,2011
Interest in World War II stories has not waned. The period immediately following the war; how people adjusted and rebuilt their lives is also of interest but is not as widely known. “Dearest Arlette” by former long time Bay St. Louis resident Emily Hosmer de Montluzin details life in the postwar years of 1945 to 1955.
The book chronicles the relationship of de Montluzin and her French cousin, Arlette Delattre Baron, through a series of letters the women exchanged after the war. De Montluzin’s family emigrated from France in the 1800s but kept contact with their French relatives. After the war, Baron, who was 16 years old, wrote her cousin in Mississippi to let her know their French relatives had survived the war and Nazi occupation.
Knowing the relatives needed food and toiletries, de Montluzin started sending packages along with letters. Things such as rice and soap were sent off to France. “Arlette wrote and said when they opened our package with the rice, her mother burst into tears when she saw the rice. It was the first bag of rice she had seen since before the war,” de Montluzin said.
Jeremy Burke, owner of Bay Books in Bay St. Louis, says there’s a lot of interest in the book. “I’ve read it and it’s fantastic,” he said. “I like it because it gives me insight into that time period and how people recovered from the war.”
De Montluzin’s daughter, Emily Lorraine de Montluzin, is a retired history professor and provided historically accurate footnotes for the book, a feature Burke found helpful. “For instance, in one letter she apologizes to her cousin for the clothes she sent her. The daughter’s footnote explains that the quality of clothing in this country was poor right after the war,” he said.
Included in the details of every day life are discussions of new inventions such as the washing machine and potato peeler along with comments on world events.
This book is also a story within a story. De Montluzin, now in her 80s, lost all her belongings in Hurricane Katrina. Fortunately, Baron had saved all the letters written to her. The book exists because Baron saved the treasured letters and sent them to her American cousin after the storm.
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