Saturday, April 12, 2014

Paris by Edward Rutherfurd

ParísParís by Edward Rutherfurd
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first remark I need to make about Paris by Edward Rutherfurd is that it is not written in a linear time frame. New York, the other book by Rutherfurd I have read, is linear and for that reason I found it easier to keep track of the characters. This book, like New York, follows a few families through the centuries, so the focus might be on the young adult years of a single person during one chapter and on his or her father's early life in the next. I noticed this point was made in many of the other reviews, but it is important enough for me to mention it again.

My wife and I went to Paris about a year and a half ago. It was my first trip to Europe, so I was excited to learn more about the city I had visited. The novel did not disappoint. During our trip my favorite section of Paris was Montmartre, the mountain where the Sacré-Cœur Basilica is located. In Rutherfurd's book a working class family named Gascon lives there. We get to follow Thomas's work on the Statue of Liberty and also on the Eiffel Tower and then we get to follow his brother Luc's less than reputable life.

This is historical fiction, so some of the characters are based on the lives of real people while others are created for the story. The kings were interesting, or course, but I really enjoyed Thomas' relationship with Monsieur Eiffel and the discussions they had about the engineering of the tower. Also, Montmartre is interesting in ways I didn't realize when we visited it. The mountain consists primarily of gypsum, from which plaster can be made (plaster of Paris). Gypsum is a soft material and is valuable enough to motivate the creation of numerous mines. For these reasons the mountain wasn't the best place to build a huge cathedral. The builders had to establish a foundation by digging a number of giant shafts and filling them with concrete. As a result the comment was made that Montmartre isn't holding up the church. It's the church that's holding up Montmartre.

I enjoyed learning about the history of the Louvre and Versailles, but what was more fascinating to me was the history of bigotry in the city. Antisemitism was prevalent in Paris through the centuries and there were other forms of bigotry as well. The hatred between Protestants and Catholics created a great amount of violence and death. France is a Catholic country. The Inquisition went on within its boundaries for centuries. Rutherfurd does an excellent job of showing his readers the results of this political decision on individuals. And he shows antisemitism through the lives of the Jacob family. Sometimes the bigotries are subtle and sometimes they are massive.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I didn't think this novel was put together as well as Rutherfurd's New York, but it's still a five star book.

Steve Lindahl - author of White Horse Regressions and Motherless Soul

View all my reviews

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