Paris is inspiring! Did you notice? This fair city has recently inspired quite a few writers in the English-speaking Paris community and they have set their ideas into novels and stories. Since community is more important than ever, we are presenting recent fiction by Anglo authors in Paris, some quite well-known and some first books. The books below are not all set in Paris, but they are certainly inspired by the community here. Books are pretty much the easiest thing to choose and send for gifts! Keep an eye on Bill & Rosa’s Book Room for 2021 events by these Anglo authors in Paris.
THE PARIS LIBRARY by Janet Skeslien Charles, a now Parisian who grew up in Montana down the street from a French war bride.
Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal. In parallel chapters there is Lily a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small Montana town called Froid (that truly exists) in 1983. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly French neighbor Odile who is known as “the war bride”. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them. The story is a historical fiction that doesn’t really feel like one as it is powerful novel that explores the consequences of our choices and the relationships that make us who we are—family, friends, and favorite authors—The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest of places. There is plenty of emotion and even some scenes that brought me to tears. It also brought me back to the United States of my youth. Janet carefully went back to her own Montana youth for the chapters set there, her cultural references evoke satin jackets, Billy Joel and Days of our Lives, bringing back floods of memories of my own youth. I even remembered playing Danse Macabre in junior high band – must have been the in piece all over the USA in the early 1980s. The background research for the French chapters and the American Library in Paris’ history make the real librarians come alive as Janet’s characters were real people. In a perplexing pandemic pivot the French translation of this novel is already published under the title Une soif de livres et de liberté (JC Lattès), the English original will be out in January. I suggest you wait for the English because the 1980s American lingo just doesn’t come across in French with the same veracity. “Now don’t get lippy!” -LV
THE SEINE, THE RIVER THAT MADE PARIS by journalist and author Elaine Sciolino who hails originally from Buffalo and has been in Paris since 2002
Both memoir of Elaine’s time in Paris as well as a collection of “unusual facts and stories about life on the Seine” and melds personal reflections. She discovers Sequana (a sculpture at the headwaters of the Seine with, it is noted, bare breasts), patrols with the river police, rows in antique boats and navigates on a freighter, revisits paintings, sips champagne, sings songs, watches films, walks the bridges, visits festivals, abbeys, museums and bouquinistes and points out all the exclusive invitation-only experiences that her calling card from the New York Times opened for her. The first hand interviews are told via her experience of them, but are nonetheless very interesting. Sciolino’s experience as a foreign journalist shows through as she spends the largest part of the book on Paris. The American journalist glides through Bertillon, Giverny and other over-sung, but beloved, American touch points while introducing the same American readers to many connections to the Seine that they might have never heard of such as French songs and literary greats. The very American perspective plays up the Seine’s romance, seduction and sex, pointing out each encounter with naked statues. The third part of the book, about the river downstream from Paris, is the most interesting as the style of the writing is less personal memoir and more history and travelogue. Overall a good read and researched in great detail. The photographs and their rendering are disappointing. It is too bad to print black and white photos of a subject so colorful. The paperback quality paper and printing doesn’t do the photos justice and many are very dark and grainy; everything is very gray, but as the author quotes Karl Lagerfeld as saying “Paris is about pale gray.”
Publisher: Norton English Books Paris
THE SPY WHO INSPIRED ME by Stephen Clarke
Stephen grew up in Bournemouth. He says it’s “the Bondi Beach of England” which gives you an inkling of his humoristic style. In Bournemouth he played bass in some of the “worst rock bands in musical history” before leaving town to study French and German at Oxford. He arrived in Paris in 1993 and started writing novels beginning with A Year in the Merde, a title known to every expat in Paris. Today he lives in Paris. The Spy Who Inspired Me is his 9th novel and that is in addition to nine non-fictions. He just keeps on writing and keeps on making us laugh. His work is funny and often irreverent, perfect for reading in today’s climate. The Spy is a James Bond parody set in WWII. It is April 1944, and chic armchair naval officer Ian Lemming is accidentally beached in Nazi-occupied Normandy. With no access to a razor or clean underwear, and deprived of his cigarettes, Lemming just wants to go home. But he is stranded with a young, though hugely experienced, female agent called Margaux Lynd, who is on a perilous mission to unmask traitors in a French Resistance network. So, as she bullies him across France and into Paris, Lemming receives a painful crash course in spy craft, and starts to fantasize about a fictional agent. A world-famous spy is born … Here’s what Stephen says about his new novel: “All these feminine characters [the Bond girls in Ian Fleming’s books – Ed.] gave me the idea of teasing their creator posthumously. We’re not really allowed to speculate on the real Fleming’s psyche, or so I was told, so I invented a character who resembles him, but is definitely not, in any legal sense, him. And then I sent him off on a spy mission with a very different type of woman. This one is young, sexy, posh-sounding – everything the ideal Bond girl should be – but she’s also an experienced secret agent with a ruthless streak who won’t stand for any patronizing male nonsense from her snobbish older colleague. When Margaux Lynd (perhaps a cousin of Vesper??) has to drag Lemming along on her mission, she’s the boss and he’s very much the Bond girl.” Reversing the roles makes for a great parody, “good clean literary fun, with plenty of sly nods towards Fleming’s work”. -LV
FRENCH LIKE MOI by Scott Dominic Carpenter a part-ime Paris resident from Minnesota
«Surprise is the highest form of pleasure, and it’s easier to find than people think» –French Like Moi, p. 45. When Scott Carpenter’s FRENCH LIKE MOI arrived on my desk at the Fusac office in Boulogne Billancourt (Boulbi as the locals say) I was sure I was about to be fire-hosed with cliché upon cliché concerning everything from French customer service to smelly cheese rinds. Such is often the case of books written by Americans about their time battling the hexagone – one of the names the French regularly employ to designate their land of the long bread. These sophomoric Hemingways offer up pretty much the same (French onion) soup in three courses: veni vidi visa — I came, I saw, I went shopping. You know the list of topics; they are as well-known as they are threadbare: buying an apartment, dodging demonstrations, turkish toilets, catastrophic coq-au-vin, Wallace fountains, notaires, neighbors, the syndic, ravalements, bricolage, eateries, administrative cauchemars, faux pas et tutti quanti… Monsieur Carpenter surprises us however with his very refreshing insights and highly creative imagination as he moles his way into every aspect of French life. He not only discovers the difference between screw-ass light bulbs and the Frankenstein-ass variety, this midwesterner, who teaches French literature and creative writing at Carleton College in Minnesota, has snuck illegally into the catacombs in his determined quest to lift the veil on Paris’s secret life. What he found was another surprise: «I’d hoped for something essential – maybe shameful and dirty. What I’d found was emptiness. A presence that was sturdy, but hollow.» Creating the unexpected is not the only technique Carpenter masters (the final chapter is a comic coup magistral). He’s funny, knows how to joke and incorporates the word dragoon in his story whenever possible. Every Meer-kin, even those from Nou-Ark Nou-jair-ssay will be delighted with these co-zee tales from the city of Light. Merci cher monsieur Charpentier for your refreshing handiwork in reverting the hackneyed veni vidi visa to the très honorable veni vidi vici. – JV
L’ORIGINE by artist Lilianne Milgrom who was born in Paris then grew up in Australia
is a novel that traces the true story of L’Origine du Monde a notorious painting from 1866 by maverick artist Gustave Coubert. The novel tells the story of the remarkable journey through the centuries and revealing the various owners of the painting and connecting them to each other. It is the tale of the painting’s survival, through wars, travels and transfers across Europe. It is a tale of a very unusual painting that was kept hidden (literally hidden behind a screen) in private collections for many years because of its “scandalous” subject matter: a sexually explicit portrait of a woman’s exposed genitals. The story is a carefully researched work of historical fiction combined with memoir that is more than a romp through history as it also examines society’s complex relationship with the female body through the 19th and 20th centuries. It has suspense, intrigue, lots of historical context, a whole cast of amazing characters and a great thread. (I wonder if this book will spark a new genre trend like Tracy Chevallier’s The Girl with the Pearl Earring did.) The book is easy and enjoyable to read and also offers a framework to the reader who wants to delve a little deeper into the history of the real people involved which include a Turkish Pasha, a famous French actress and a psychoanalyst who were the owners of L’Origine du Monde before its transfer to the State was used to settle an inheritance tax debt. It was hung in the Musée d’Orsay in 1995 where in 2011 artist and now author, Lilianne Migrom, was drawn to copying the painting on an easel in the museum and so the book’s story begins. -LV
THERE’S ONLY ONE PARIS – Tales from Pandemic Paris by Ango author in Paris April Lily Heise who hails from Canada
“There’s only one Paris, and however hard living here may be, and if it became worse and even harder, [the city does] a world of good.” a quote from Vincent van Gogh which inspired a collection of linked stories, penned by Lily with participation from her followers during the first confinement. Readers would send in their favorite things to do or places to visit and Lily wove a weekly story around these ideas. The individual stories are threaded together by one bigger story of a crazy metro trip that spans the whole book and all the neighborhoods. Through this series of stories, the reader journeys to this one and only Paris and takes a glimpse at how it and its residents are adapting to the “new normal.” Traversing the city’s 20 arrondissements, an eclectic cast of characters confronts a range of new challenges and emotions which have arisen due to Covid-19. By daring to overcome anxiety, loneliness and stubbornness, they find courage, love and, most importantly, hope. In the face of adversity, the City of Light still sparkles—and proves that it does a world of good and does the world good.
FINAL TRANSGRESSION by Harriet Welty Rochefort, who originally from Iowa, has lived in Paris for 50 years
This is Harriet’s first novel and she has done well in capturing the historical context and the characters. Her previous books about France and the French as well as her many years in a French family (she grew up in Iowa) helped her to conceive this story that takes place during the German Occupation. The story is not a mystery, but there is certainly intrigue. I thought for sure I had the dénouement figured out but I was surprised in the end as to who was Felix’s father. The years of Occupation in France were a period of suspicion and settling scores for hatchets that were never completely buried. The village of The Village Français series could have been the setting for Harriet’s story. Everybody is there and knows what the other is doing; all the social classes and the various resistants, communists and collaborators are intertwined. Harriet adds to her dialogue a few gems of wisdom that are still current today, for example Severine talking about social classes say: “I don’t like labels. They don’t mean anything other than to the people who assign them.”. Here is the synopsis. Two sisters, two different destinies. In Final Transgression, 85-year-old Caroline Aubry tells the tale of the tragic wartime destiny of her beloved younger sister, Séverine. From their humble beginnings in a hamlet in the southwest of France to a château where Séverine becomes the protegée of the beautiful countess who employs their parents, their trajectories differ. After they move to Paris, the pragmatic Caroline becomes a successful designer and the high-spirited Severine marries a rich jeweler. When WW2 breaks out and her collaborationist husband betrays her, the headstrong Séverine flees to the chateau and the countess –– in spite of warnings about the risk of traveling to an area that is a fierce battleground for rival groups of résistants, Nazis and collaborators. Severine is beautiful, intelligent but obstinate – and it is that obstinacy that will ultimately seal her fate. The end of the war in France was a time for settling scores. Séverine, an ordinary woman living in extraordinary times, unwittingly hands the hangman’s noose to her enemies in one egregious act—her final transgression. -LV
THREE HOURS IN PARIS by Cara Black who lives in California and travels regularly to Paris to entrench herself in a different part of the city each year.
Aimée Leduc is back for a 19th thriller installment set in Paris. This time the private investigator finds herself in a dangerous web of international spycraft, post-colonial Franco-African politics, and neighborhood secrets in Paris’s 12th arrondissement. Parisian private investigator Aimée Leduc is about to go onstage to deliver the keynote address at a tech conference that is sure to secure Leduc Detective some much-needed business contracts when she gets an emergency phone call from her daughter’s playgroup: Aimée’s own mother, who was supposed to pick Chloe up, never showed. Abandoning her hard-won speaking gig, Aimée rushes to get Chloe, annoyed that her mother has let her down yet again. But as Aimée and Chloe are leaving the playground, Aimée witnesses the body of a homeless woman being wheeled away from the neighboring convent, where nuns run a soup kitchen. The last person anyone saw the dead woman talking to was Aimée’s mother, who has vanished. Trying to figure out what happened to Sydney Leduc, Aimée tracks down the dead woman’s possessions, which include a huge amount of cash. What did Sydney stumble into? Is she in trouble? http://carablack.com/
THE DIARY OF COUNTESS ANNA BEREZOWSKA edited by John A. Stelnicki and long time Paris resident Iris Hart
An unforgettable literary masterpiece written over 200 years ago by a woman during the struggle and fall of Europe’s first attempt at a constitutional democracy, this unique true account reads more like a riveting mystery novel. Despite its epoch, it reverberates with timeless issues that still affect us all today. Young Countess Anna wrote in her Diary between 1791 and 1795, not imagining that she would live through fires, blizzards, near-starvation, bloody battles between nations, and savage assaults on her body. Nevertheless, she miraculously retained her poetic sensitivity and hopefulness, never succumbing to bitterness or resignation. Translated from mainly Polish over 60 years ago, this book contains unique descriptions of the lifestyle of an unknown peasant clan who rescued and revived Anna after a murderous carriage attack; graphic descriptions of childbirth practices; ghastly war scenes; candid comments on women’s suppression and social class inequalities; tender confessions of love emotions; and explicitly sexual passages that Anna copied from the diary of her lascivious cousin Sophia.
This Diary has never heretofore been published in its authenticity and its present availability finally fulfills Anna Berezowska’s profound wish to share her experiences and insights with the world. Order on Amazon
THE WEEK BEFORE THANKSGIVING – by Wayne Standley, amongst the Anglo authors in Paris, Wayne is the best known on the Paris folk music circuit
A celebrated jewelry designer, Jean Marc, was promised to be appointed ‘chairman of the board’ by the owner of the company, Volcano Enterprises. But the owner died and his two sons took over the company. – The brothers did not honor their father’s promise, but instead, fired the designer. Jean Marc seeks revenge. On the advice of his son, he hired a ‘jack of all trades’ character, Casey Armstrong to perform two special services. Casey first broke into Volcano files and copied incriminating information – insurance for retaliation. Then, he robbed the company of millions of dollars in merchandise. These escapades went smoothly, but there was a gang working a racket with the company, and they became quite apprehensive over the risk of being found out. The evidence from the files would send them to prison forever. So, this dangerous bunch hightailed after Jean Marc, Casey, and Ted Macon, Jean Marc’s assistant. Chases and meetings followed. One meeting left three people dead. Lt. Tommy Chang is on the case. or cases. He is a famous San Francisco police detective who sketches his suspects and crime scenes. He is also a kung foo expert. When Tommy had the evidence to make several arrests, he delayed the procedure to find more clues and suspects. In addition, two ranking police officers were under his secret investigation. The story is filled with action, strategies, romance, art, and humor. You will be sitting on the edge of your seat during the fast getaways and stunts. In one episode, there is a sting operation underway – whose side are you on? Lots of romance – four pretty girls are waiting to change their name. And you will marvel at Jean Marc’s designing and his plan to sell it. Tommy’s sketching, and Claire’s wig creation – the Sky Dive, which was used in the sensational robbery. There are fifty thrilling characters. You will be happy to meet most of them, but ten of them, you had better stay away from. So now, get ready for drama, humor, and enlightenment. Order on Amazon
In Bill & Rosa’s Book Room you’ll find gently used books of all sorts in our Paris & France section including A Year in the Merde and all of the above titles. There are memoirs, fictions set in Paris, guide books, picture books and more that will make wonderful gifts. We do offer click and collect or local delivery (you can find the list here, then just email email@example.com with your selection) and if you ask nicely we could even ship directly to a giftee.