Saturday, April 20, 2013

Review: Paris by Edward Rutherfurd

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1894 KB
  • Print Length: 832 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday Canada (April 23 2013)
  • Sold by: Random House Canada, Incorp.

Book Description

From the grand master of the historical novel comes a dazzling epic portrait of Paris that leaps through centuries as it weaves the tales of families whose fates are forever entwined with the City of Lights.

     As he did so brilliantly in London: The Novel and New York: The Novel, Edward Rutherfurd brings to life the most magical city in the world: Paris.

    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.

    Even more richly detailed, thrilling, and romantic then anything Rutherfurd has written before, Paris: The Novel illuminates thousands of years in the City of Lights through intimate and vivid tales of characters both fictional and true, and with them, the sights, scents, and tastes of Paris come to sumptuous life.

About the Author

EDWARD RUTHERFURD is the internationally bestselling author of seven novels, including the New York Times bestsellers New York, London, The Princes of Ireland, and The Rebels of Ireland


© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One


Paris. City of love. City of dreams. City of splendor. City of saints and scholars. City of gaiety.

Sink of iniquity.

In two thousand years, Paris had seen it all.

It was Julius Caesar who had first seen the possibilities of the place where the modest Parisii tribe made their home. The Mediterranean lands of southern Gaul had already been Roman provinces for generations at that time; but when Caesar decided to bring the troublesome Celtic tribes of northern Gaul into the empire as well, it hadn’t taken him long.

The Romans had quickly seen that this was a logical place for a town. A collecting point for the produce of the huge fertile plains of northern Gaul, the Parisian territory lay on the navigable River Seine. From its headwaters farther south, there was an easy portage to the huge River Rhône, which ran down to the busy ports of the Mediterranean. Northward, the Seine led to the narrow sea across which the island of Britannia lay. This was the great river system through which the southern and northern worlds were joined. Greek and Phoenician traders had been using it even before the birth of Rome. The site was perfect. The Parisian heartland lay in a wide, shallow valley through which the Seine made a series of graceful loops. In the center of the valley, on a handsome east-west bend, the river widened and several big mudflats and islands lay, like so many huge barges at anchor, in the stream. On the northern bank, meadows and marshes stretched far and wide until they came to the lip of low, enclosing ridges, from which several small hills and promontories jutted out, some of them covered with vineyards.

But it was on the southern bank--the left bank as one went downstream--that the ground near the river swelled gently into a low, flat hillock, like a table overlooking the water. And it was here that the Romans had laid out their town, a large forum and the main temple covering the top of the table with an amphitheater nearby, a grid of streets all around, and a north-south road running straight through the center, across the water to the largest island, which was now a suburb with a fine temple to Jupiter, and over a farther bridge to the northern bank. They had originally called the town Lutetia. But it was also known, more grandly, as the city of the Parisii.

In the Dark Ages after the Roman Empire fell, the German tribe of Franks had conquered the territory in the Land of the Franks, as it came to be called, or France. Its rich countryside had been invaded by Huns and Viking Norsemen. But the island in the river, with its wooden defenses, like some battered old ship, survived. In medieval times, she’d grown into a great city, her maze of Gothic churches, tall timbered houses, dangerous alleys and stinking cellars spread across both sides of the Seine, enclosed by a high stone wall. Stately Notre Dame Cathedral graced the island. Her university was respected all over Europe. Yet even then, the English came and conquered her. And Paris might have been English if Joan of Arc, the miraculous maid, hadn’t appeared and chased them out.

Old Paris: City of bright colors and narrow streets, of carnival and plague.

And then there was new Paris.

The change had come slowly. From the time of the Renaissance, lighter, classical spaces began to appear in her dark medieval mass. Royal palaces and noble squares created a new splendor. Broad boulevards began to carve through the rotting old warrens. Ambitious rulers created vistas worthy of ancient Rome.

Paris had altered her face to suit the magnificence of Louis XIV, and the elegance of Louis XV. The Age of Enlightenment and the new republic of the French Revolution had encouraged classical simplicity, and the age of Napoleon bequeathed imperial grandeur.

Recently, this process of change had been accelerated by a new town planner. Baron Haussmann’s great network of boulevards and long, straight streets lined with elegant office and apartment blocks was so thorough that there were quarters of Paris now where the rich mess of the Middle Ages was scarcely to be seen.

Yet old Paris was still there, around almost every corner, with her memories of centuries past, and of lives relived. Memories as haunting as an old, half-forgotten tune that, when played again--in another age, in another key, whether on harp or hurdy-gurdy--is still the same. This was her enduring grace.

Was Paris now at peace with herself? She had suffered and survived, seen empires rise and fall. Chaos and dictatorship, monarchy and republic: Paris had tried them all. And which did she like best? Ah, there was a question . . . For all her age and grace, it seemed she did not know.

Recently, she had suffered another terrible crisis. Four years ago, her people had been eating rats. Humiliated first, starving next. Then they had turned upon each other. It had not been long since the bodies had been buried, the smell of death been dispersed by the wind and the echo of the firing squads departed over the horizon.

Now, in the year 1875, she was recovering. But many great issues remained still to be resolved.

The little boy was only three. A fair-haired, blue-eyed child. Some things he knew already. Others were still kept from him. And then there were the secrets.

Father Xavier gazed at him. How like his mother the child looked. Father Xavier was a priest, but he was in love with a woman, the mother of this child. He admitted his passion to himself, but his self-discipline was complete. No one would have guessed his love. As for the little boy, God surely had a plan for him.

Perhaps that he should be sacrificed.

It was a sunny day in the fashionable Tuileries Gardens in front of the Louvre, where nannies watched their children play, and Father Xavier was taking him for a walk. Father Xavier: family confessor, friend in need, priest.

“What are your names?” he playfully asked the child.

“Roland, D’Artagnan, Dieudonne de Cygne.” He knew them all by heart.

“Bravo, young man.” Father Xavier Parle-Doux was a small, wiry man in his forties. Long ago he’d been a soldier. A fall from a horse had left him with a stabbing pain in his back ever since--though only a handful of people were aware of it.

But his days as a soldier had marked him in another way. He had done his duty. He’d seen killing. He had seen things worse than killing. And in the end, it had seemed to him that there must be something better than this, something more sacred, an undying flame of light and love in the terrible darkness of the world. He’d found it in the heart of Holy Church.

Also, he was a monarchist.

He’d known the child’s family all his life, and now he looked down at him with affection, but also with pity. Roland had no brother or sister. His mother, that beautiful soul, the woman he himself would have liked to marry had he not chosen another calling, suffered with delicate health. The future of the family might rest on little Roland alone: a heavy burden for a boy to bear.

But he knew that as a priest, he must take a larger view. What was it the Jesuits said? “Give us a boy till he’s seven, and he’s ours for life.” Whatever God’s plan for this child, whether that service led to happiness or not, Father Xavier would lead him toward it.

“And who was Roland?”

“Roland was a hero.” The little boy looked up for approval. “My mother read me the story. He was my ancestor,” he added solemnly.

The priest smiled. The famous Song of Roland was a haunting, romantic tale, from a thousand years ago, about how the emperor Charlemagne’s friend was cut off as the army crossed the mountains. How Roland blew on his horn for help, to no avail. How the Saracens slew him, and how the emperor wept for the loss of his friend. The de Cygne family’s claim to this ancestor was fanciful, but charming.

“Others of your ancestors were crusading knights.” Father Xavier nodded encouragingly. “But this is natural. You are of noble birth.” He paused. “And who was D’Artagnan?”

“The famous Musketeer. He was my ancestor.”

As it happened, the hero of The Three Musketeers had been based upon a real man. And Roland’s family had married a noblewoman of the same name back in the time of Louis XIV--though whether they had taken much interest in this connection before the novel made the name famous, the priest rather doubted.

“You have the blood of the D’Artagnans in your veins. They were soldiers who served their king.”

“And Dieudonne?” the child asked.

Hardly were the words out before Father Xavier checked himself. He must be careful. Could the child have any idea of the horror of the guillotine that lay behind the last of his names?

“Your grandfather’s name is beautiful, you know,” he replied. “It means ‘the gift of God.’ ” He thought for a moment. “The birth of your grandfather was--I do not say a miracle--but a sign. And remember one thing, Roland,” the priest continued. “Do you know the motto of your family? It is very important. ‘Selon la volonte de Dieu’--According to God’s Will.”

Father Xavier turned his eyes up to survey the landscape all around. To the north rose the hill of Montmartre, where Saint Denis had been martyred by pagan Romans, sixteen centuries ago. To the southwest, behind the towers of Notre Dame, rose the slope above the Left Bank where, as the old Roman Empire was crumbling, the indefatigable Saint Genevieve had asked God to turn Attila and his Huns away from the city--and her prayers had been answered.

Time and again, thought the priest, God had protected France in her hour of need.

My Review

 Ever since Sarum, Edward Rutherfurd has always been a favorite of mine. He has a special talent for blending superior storytelling skills with the rich history of a particular location.  In this case it is the beautiful city of Paris.

Most people think of Paris as a delightful city full of love and good taste.  How many visitors know the incredible history of the different eras it has endured and triumphed over.  This is an excellent way to start to really understand Paris.  How it came be and why its people are such survivors.

An excellent read.  Perfect for lovers of great writing, fascinating stories with the history of one of the world's most enticing cities to learn and ponder.

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