“Dearest Arlette” gives a more personal take on history

Jonathan Rainey, Staff Writer

“Dearest Arlette: Everyday Life in Postwar America and France, 1945-1955,” by Emily Hosmer de Montluzin and Emily Lorraine de Motluzin reminds the reader of the nearly-lost art of writing letters for correspondence.

The book is a compilation of a fascinating record left by the letters of a French and an American woman living in the years following the Second World War.

Emily de Motluzin, the author of the letters from which the book takes its title, grew up in the city of Bay St. Louis, MS, and tells of her life throughout her letters.

The book is essentially a piece of historical nonfiction.  The letters, written to a young French girl named Arlette during the years following World War II, are very personal in nature and deal with the aspects of life that are overlooked when typically reading or learning about history.

Emily writes to Arlette detailing the hardships of postwar America and responds to her descriptions about life during the economic recovery in France.

The book reads almost effortlessly because of the familiar tone which Emily takes writing to Arlette.  The letters weave between personal issues and problems that Emily is concerned about, both for herself and Arlette, and more significant events taking place such as the Korean War.

The events and concerns of Emily and Arlette’s everyday lives range from the food rationing during the War, to the women’s love lives, to the latest films or the biggest actresses of the time.

Eventually, the women meet in person and spend time traveling with one another.  Reading about all of the intricacies gives a real sense of personality to the book as a whole, and while there is not a central point or thesis that de Montluzin tries to argue, it doesn’t really need one.

Emily and Arlette’s daily hardships and victories within life are enough to keep the reader engaged.

In addition to the letters themselves, the numerous footnotes and extra explanation of certain points within the letters makes it easy to drop right into the lives of the correspondents.

One of Emily’s interesting additional notes to the story, which helps to add context to one of the letters, is her description of her job at the censorship office during World War II.

Emily’s unique set of linguistic skills in English, French, and Spanish made her an ideal choice to read and censor these letters for content about anything which would help Germany might the letters fall into the wrong hands.

She was also tasked with searching for irregular grammar and syntax patterns which might be a cypher.  During her time as a censor she did find one such cypher, and it proved essential in stopping an attempt to destroy one of the locks on the Panama Canal.

A primary catalyst for compiling and writing this book was the result of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Nearly all of Arlette’s letters written to Emily were destroyed when the de Montluzin’s home flooded.

The loss of over 50 years’ worth of correspondence was devastating, but Arlette had kept all of the letters and photographs sent by Emily and upon hearing of the loss shipped her half of the letters back to where they originated.

Emily Hosmer de Montluzin’s daughter, Lorraine, is a professor of history emeritus at FMU and helped her mother with the consolidation and writing of the book after the letters and photos were returned.

Dearest Arlette is available for purchase at the Patriot Bookstore in the Smith University Center.