Book of the Month:
Paris Was Ours, edited by Penelope Rowlands
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” Over-quoted as they may be, these words from Ernest Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast still capture the abiding allure and magic of Paris for many expatriates, male or female, who have been fortunate enough to live in the City of Light at any age. I am among this lucky crowd, having lived in Paris for six months just after college, so any account of life in that singular city has a special poignancy for me.
This helps explain why I have been so deeply savoring the multi-faceted new anthology Paris Was Ours, in which 32 contemporary writers—mostly from the U.S., Canada, and England, but also from Iran, Iraq, and Cuba—reflect on their experiences in the city. If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris, you know that it is not all passion and profiteroles, that everyday life in Paris can be fatiguing, frustrating, and downright infuriating—as these stories abundantly illustrate. But as these tales also reveal, if you persevere through the flummoxes, you discover richness on a deeper and more nourishing level than the casual visitor’s superficial shimmer.
There are youthful memoirs in this volume that instantly bring me back to my own post-grad infatuations with art, theater, history, and jeunes filles francaises. And there are more mature accounts as well: Patric Kuh learns life-changing culinary lessons, Véronique Vienne achieves a new understanding of money and its place in the Parisian world, and Diane Johnson comes to see the wisdom of French flirting and fashion.
Whether you have lived in Paris or not, this captivating collection will transport you there.
Molotov’s Magic Lantern recounts British journalist Rachel Polonsky’s travels around Moscow and Russia inspired by the books discovered in the surprisingly extensive home library of Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin’s second in command. Her insights into Russian history and culture enrich her visits to Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don, Murmansk, and other farflung corners of the vast country. Late for Tea at the Deer Palace: The Lost Dreams of My Iraqi Family, is Tamara Chalabi’s memoir of her influential and wealthy family’s history through the 20th century, from World War I to their exile from Iraq after the 1958 coup. She paints a vivid portrait of domestic and social life in a lost Baghdad, one that contrasts sharply with the city’s contemporary image.
In The Quiet World: Saving Alaska’s Wilderness Kingdom 1879-1960, Douglas Brinkley tells the epic story of how environmentalists saved Alaska’s wild landscapes—Mount McKinley, Tongass and Chugach National Forests, Denali National Park—from despoilers. Author David Vann also conjures up remote and stark Alaskan settings in his new novel of failing marriages and misguided dreams, Caribou Island.
If You Like…
…Agatha Christie mysteries, check out A Man In Uniform, by Kate Taylor. In this work of historical fiction, a well-ordered lawyer has his world upended by the request of a mysterious widow who is somehow connected with Alfred Dreyfus, the French captain accused by the army of espionage and exiled to Devil’s Island in the scandal that became known as the Dreyfus Affair. As this collaborative quest unfolds, Taylor conjures up 1890s Paris in sumptuous detail.
One Last Thing:
A Wild Hare Chase in Finland
I’ve never been to Finland, but it has always intrigued me—and the beguiling book The Year of the Hare has whetted that intrigue even more. Driving through rural Finland on assignment, a journalist and photographer hit a young hare. When the injured animal scampers into the forest, the photographer continues on his appointed route, but the journalist decides to track down the hare and care for it. A comic series of misadventures ensues, ranging from close encounters with a befuddled country pastor, an anarchist-turned-nature-worshipper, and a rare white-necked bear to an appearance at a formal state dinner. Written by beloved Finnish journalist, poet, and novelist Arto Paasilinna, this ode to spontaneity and serendipity illuminates Finland’s landscape and lifestyle in a gently ironic light. This first North American edition features a new foreword by Pico Iyer.