Paris: The Novel
By: Edward Rutherfurd
Format/Source: e-galley courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
This breathtaking multigenerational saga takes readers on a journey through thousands of years of glorious Parisian history–from its founding under the Romans to the timeless love story of Abelard and Heloise against the backdrop of the building of Notre Dame; to the martyrdom of Joan of Arc during the Hundred Years War; to the dangerous manipulations of Cardinal Richelieu and the bloody religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants; to the gilded glories of Versailles; to the horrors of the French Revolution and the conquests of Napoleon; to the beauty and optimism of the belle epoque when Impressionism swept the world; to the hotbed of cultural activity of the 1920s and ’30s that included Picasso, Salvador Dali, Ernest Hemingway, and the writers of the Lost Generation; to the Nazi occupation and the incredible efforts of the French Resistance.
Edward Rutherfurd is amazing. I love how he’s able to write so many vivid stories over the course of how many centuries, all set in a particular city or country. Granted, I’ve only read one of his books so far, Russka, but the acclaim for his work is well-founded. I was excited that Paris was his latest location to set his novel because that city is just rich in history. I was fortunate to be approved of a galley to this novel via NetGalley.
This book is part of the Books on France Reading Challenge 2013 that I am participating in.
Unlike Russka where each of the stories set in the different periods more or less were unrelated to each other (from what I recall), this novel has a set number of characters & families that the reader follows over the course of most of the novel. It’s a welcomed change because it helps ground the reader acquaint themselves with the events happening in Paris during whatever period in history the chapter is in. It also allows the reader to become more involved in the overarching stories and to the overall history of the city. It’s also multi-generational in that we follow these three families of different backgrounds–one aristocratic, one bourgeoisie and one socialist/working class–over the course of century and the various events and troubles that come up in their lives. Social class is a prevalent feature of French society so naturally it made sense to follow the story of Paris through the eyes of these different families. It was quite a bittersweet experience once I got to the end of the novel because it really felt like I was a part of these families.
Paris really comes alive in this novel and stands as quite a character of its own in the story. Famous monuments and their constructions are mentioned, such as the Eiffel Tower and the symbolism behind La Basilique du Sacre Coeur as are major events such as the reign of Louis XIV, the French Revolution and the Vichy regime. The three principal families move with the times, sometimes getting embroiled in political developments and upheavals and running into each other along the way. The various periods are not represented in a linear fashion outside of the 19th century/20th century period where most of the family and character stories take place, which is interesting and doesn’t really distract the reader from the character and family drama that takes place during the bulk of the novel.
Overall Paris is just such an experience to read. It’s hard to get into detail about this novel because there’s just so many character and historical events covered, one has to just experience it for his or herself to understand. There’s not a dull moment in the story and there’s some really wonderful passages and moments throughout the span of centuries. My French history is a little rusty but I felt it covered all of the major events. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, you should definitely check this book out! I have to say, it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year =)