Ella Turner and Isabelle du Moulin are relatives, but their lives take place centuries apart. Isabelle lives in a small town in 16th century France during a time of great religious strife. Her red hair earns her the nickname of “La Rousse.” Isabelle's mother is a midwife who teaches her daughter the profession. One night coming home from a house visit, her mother is attacked by a wolf and dies from infection. A new religious sect, the Calvinists, forms in her town and they make connections between the color red and the Virgin. They claim idol worship is sinful and begin to destroy all images. One day she is advanced on by a young man from the village, Etienne Tournier. He pushes her to marry him once discovering she is pregnant, and Isabelle moves in with the Tournier family. Her mother in law, Hannah, is always harsh towards Isabelle. Over the next couple years Isabelle gives birth to three children.
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Ella Turner, a former midwife, moves to Lisle-sur-Tarn, France, with her husband, Rick. His work is transferred, and she accompanies him. She struggles with life in an unknown town and has a hard time befriending the locals. Ella decides she wants a baby, and when they attempt to conceive she begins having strange flashbacks involving the color blue. This sparks an interest in her family history, so she goes to the local library and meets Jean-Paul, the librarian. She spends more time with Jean-Paul and develops feelings for him. Ella has strange dreams and hears voices speaking in French. She continues to research her family history.
Isabelle and her new family are Huguenots. When Catholics start attacking anyone with different religious beliefs, the Tournier family is forced to flee into Switzerland. They are always fearful for their safety. Isabelle discovers a red strand of hair on her daughter, Marie's, head, and she quickly pulls it out. She is consumed with fear for her safety and the safety of her only daughter.
Ella writes to a relative in Switzerland, Jacob Tournier, who informs her that her family originally came from Cevennes, France. She talks to people and finds an old family Bible with birth and death records.
Isabelle and her family are in Moutier, and they try to get on with their lives. Isabelle meets a peddler and receives some blue cloth. Her family hears rumors about her hiding in the woods with a goat and accuses her of witchcraft. Etienne beats her until she blacks out. No one listens to her pleas for help.
Ella keeps researching the information in the Bible and gets closer to Jean-Paul. He invites her out one night when Rick is out of town. They drink at a bar and end up sleeping together.
Isabelle's treatment by her family gets worse. They do not trust her and do not let her out on her own. Only Marie still loves her. When Isabelle dresses Marie in a blue skirt, Etienne is angry and hits Marie. He takes her away from Isabelle.
Ella flies to Moutier in Switzerland to meet her relative, Jacob. She meets a cousin, Susanne, who befriends her. Susanne is also pregnant. A few days later Rick calls and discovers she slept with Jean-Paul, and Susanne suffers a miscarriage. She investigates the farm and discovers the remnants of a child, bones and cloth, hidden under a hearth. They are the remains of Isabelle's daughter, Marie, from the 16th century. Etienne and his family killed her and hid the body. Ella returns to France with the bones and wants to bury them. Rick decides to move to Germany, and although he is hurt by her betrayal, he still loves her and wants her to come. Ella goes to see Jean-Paul and tells him about the bones. She decides to stay in France with Jean-Paul, leaving Rick for good.
Best part of story, including ending:
I thought Isabelle's struggles with her family and her beliefs were emotional and thoroughly believable. The back and forth narrative allowed for new facts to be presented that would shed light on centuries of history.
Best scene in story:
A favorite scene was when Ella discovers the family Bible and goes through the pages. It was a walk back in time as she examined the burnt paper and read the dates recorded by a hand so many years before.
Opinion about the main character:
Ella's betrayal when she sleeps with Jean-Paul is difficult to accept.