Summary and Analysis
The story leaps forward again to Oregon in 1995, where Julien drives the elderly protagonist to her new home. As she settles into the retirement community, the woman finds a letter from Paris among her mail that contains an invitation to a passeurs’ reunion. She wonders how she can attend without remembering “the terrible things I have done, the secret I kept, the man I killed . . . and the one I should have.” Her son doesn’t understand what the invitation means or why his mother is receiving it.
As the woman (later identified as Vianne) briefly explains to Julien, a passeur (the French word for “smuggler”) is someone who helped smuggle people out of Nazi-occupied France during WWII. The invitation provides an important clue to where the story is headed: Clearly Isabelle is growing increasingly involved in the resistance movement. The cryptic sentence about the man this woman killed also adds to the mystery, raising again the question of which sister is speaking and who she might have killed.
The woman makes a passing but important reference to gender in this chapter. When Julien first realizes the letter is about WWII, he asks his mother if it is for his father. The woman wryly observes, “Men always think war is about them.” In fact, the very capacity of men to underestimate women’s contributions to the war effort is what made women such effective passeurs during the war.