Reviewed by Dolores Maund
The story of The Museum of Broken Promises spans some three or more decades and moves between communist Czechoslovakia during the latter stages of the Cold War and Paris and Berlin in the period after the fall of the Wall. This particular historical context, as most readers will be well aware, provides fertile ground for a discussion of the way in which repressive regimes shape and limit even those most deeply personal choices made by people living within such intensely constrained circumstances. Through her deftly and sympathetically drawn characters Buchan illuminates various ways in which many ordinary people in communist Czechoslovakia were forced to compromise their own integrity and then left to live with the consequences of their actions. Her rendering of the effects of this sorry state on the interior lives of the characters provides a memorable apercu of the central theme of the book. The way in which the narrative moves back and forth between the past and the present over such a long period gives a feeling of a gradual fitting together of the pieces of a jig-saw and in so doing makes for compelling reading. This structure also allows for a clear delineation of the long term psychological and emotional effects on the lives of the main characters along with the way in which each character attempts to attain some semblance of equilibrium. In throwing light on the insidious nature of Czechoslovakian society under communist rule Buchan asks the reader to place him or herself in the shoes of those unfortunate people who were forced to betray not only their own moral codes but in certain cases, other human beings. While for many readers this imaginative exercise will be an immensely absorbing one it is also likely to disturb in its inevitable prompting of the old adage that ‘but for the grace of god there go I.’
From the moment I began The Museum of Broken Promises I became completely immersed in the world created by Buchan and even after reaching the end of the book the images of life in the two different societies along with her superbly etched characters have remained with me. In this memorable and profoundly affecting novel Buchan has made a significant contribution to that well-established tradition within literature which deals with life in certain notoriously repressive and warped societies of twentieth century Europe. Many a reader’s imaginative horizon will be expanded by their entering into Buchan’s world.
'I ADORE cold-war novels and I live for love stories - The Museum of Broken Promises is a perfect combination of both. It's a gem of a book ... beautiful, elegant.'
- Marian Keyes
'Intricately plotted and beautifully written, the characters and the setting stay with you and leave you yearning for Paris.'
- Katie Fforde, author of A Vintage Wedding