Several years ago, my book club read Tatiana De Rosnay's "Sarah's Key", a popular selection. There were parts of that story that I loved...WWII, little Sarah and her heartbreaking story...but parts I didn't like. While most people undeniably loved it, I was ambivalent about reading more from the author.
But recently she published this, and I thought the premise was intriguing (Paris in the 1800's). The audio was only five discs long (a long walk and a thorough housecleaning), and Heather loaned it to me, so I was convinced.
Synopsis: It is 1860 and the old Paris is being razed for the sake of progress. Entire neighborhoods are being destroyed to make room for wider boulevards and improved sewer systems, per the orders of Emperor Napoleon III. Amidst the destruction sits an old house occupied by Rose Bazelet, who refuses to give up her family home and her memories to this movement. She takes refuge in the basement, and writes a long letter to her dead husband Armand.
Rose reflects back on everything that the house on rue Childebert has witnessed. It saw the rise and fall of various political parties, it saw the French Revolution, the new democratic institutions, and Belle Epoque. It was originally in her husband's family for generations. Rose made a life there with Armand, had two children, made lifelong friends, and lost loved ones in this house. The house also closely guarded a secret of Rose's that she has never told a single soul, until she reveals it in a last confession in her letter.
As a testament to De Rosnay's time spent living in Paris and her love for all things French, she brings this time period to life for us, and into one life that was destroyed by its modernization.
My thoughts: Even though I have never actually visited the City of Lights, I find Paris an intriguing setting. It has so much potential in a book to become its own character, with its culture and its food and its reputation of romance. (Coincidentally, while I was listening to this book, I watched the movie "Midnight in Paris"...strange how your life finds themes serendipitously). In this sense, the book charmed me, and educated me about a part of Paris' history I knew nothing about.
The characters, however, mostly felt two dimensional to me. Perhaps this was because most of the novel was an older woman sitting in a basement reflecting back on her life, most of the characters failed to come to life for me. I did appreciate Rose's best friend, Alexandrine, who was headstrong and tenacious...a feminist before her time.
In the end, this was an enjoyable and sweet read.
A few words about the audio production: Our narrator for this production was Kate Reading, who has a lovely accent and has a resume filled with classics, which is a good fit. I wouldn't describe her voice as distinctive, but is pleasant to listen to.
3.5 out of 5 stars