Thursday, January 16, 2014

373 (2014 #1). Paris

by Edward Rutherfurd

I was on a cruise last week and I decided to take my new Kindle instead of a stack of books.  This was one of the titles I borrowed from my local public library to read on the cruise, and the only one I finished (the print book is 832 pages).

Edward Rutherfurd, who has written other historical novels about countries (Russia, England) and major cities (New York, Dublin), intertwines facts and real people (such as the Hemingways) with fictional characters and events in this novel about Paris that spans the period of 1261 to 1968.  Most of the action takes place from 1875 to 1940, however.

Rutherfurd presents Paris history through the lives of members of six families through the ages: the aristocratic de Cygnes, the merchant/middle-class Renards and Blanchards, the working-class Le Sourds and Gascons, and a Jewish family where all the males are named Jacob.  Even in the other families, it can get confusing, because first names often repeat in later generations.

There's a family tree chart near the beginning of the book, but it's hard to view on a smaller Kindle.  After reading the book, I discovered I could have downloaded an 8.5" x 14" copy of the chart via the preview function at Amazon.com.  You can also get the chart on the author's web page for the book, along with maps of old and modern Paris.  I wish I'd had these tools available while I was reading the book - which is why I'm mentioning them here.

My favorite character was Thomas Gascon, probably because he was involved in my favorite storyline, about the building of the Eiffel Tower.  That was fascinating!  Rutherfurd included lots of details about its construction that really brought these parts of the book to life.  He researched interesting facts and then put his characters in some of the scenes - for example, Thomas is the leader of the group who cuts the elevator cables on the Eiffel Tower in 1940 so Hitler can't go up and view the city he's just overrun.

Other than being a little confused about the characters - particularly since the story jumps back and forth in time - I enjoyed this book.  It should be noted that I have never been to Paris, nor am I very familiar with the history of that city or of France (other than some biographical novels about Josephine and Desiree, where I learned a little about the French Revolution, the Terror, and the Napoleonic era).  I'm not sure if one would appreciate this book more with such familiarity and knowledge, or be inclined to criticize it.  As for me, I enjoyed the book, and I learned a lot I didn't know about Paris.  I will try some of Rutherfurd's other books in the future.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This e-book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

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