If America had parents, our proverbial parents would probably be England (the overbearing Father) and France (our loving and flighty Mother). But Paris would be our delightful, worldly, wise, flirtatious, possibly lesbian, beautiful, volatile Aunt with many lovers and a vast art collection. Her influence whispered in our ear, put treats in our pockets, taught us how to appreciate the beauty all around, made us unafraid to tell off Mother France. Yes, Auntie Paris—our flamboyant, fabulous champion.
Edward Rutherfurd has become a modern master of the multi-period sweeping epic novel. If you were ever a fan of James Michener’s works (Alaska! Texas! Poland?) then Rutherfurd is definitely going to be your bag. Paris: The Novel begins in such a way that you can practically visualize Julius Caesar stroking his toga, imagining the possibilities for a erecting a town in the fertile land occupied by a tribe known as the Parisii, from whom Paris ultimately receives her name.
Rutherford has the ability to take large, jaunty leaps back and forth in time with elasticity and intrigue, criss-crossing multi-generational storylines within historical contexts. The intertwining sagas are peppered with intriguing historical moments and figures. Thomas Gascon tells his story as a boy from Montmartre, who in working with Gustave Eiffel on the Statue of Liberty then plays a large role in the construction of the Eiffel Tower. Roland DeCygne—a member of the noble class, a soldier, a royalist—leads us through generations of the gilded aristocracy. They may have been broke, but they were noble!
The City of Light and Love—bombarded with revolution, religious persecution, and war—was also a sort of primordial birthplace of beauty and art, reason, and enlightenment. Paris developed an Impressionist commune, drawing artists, writers, and creative types from all over the world to study among each other, creating a hub of appreciation and setting the bar for what is considered high art. Even Coco Chanel has a cameo in the intertwined tale of a girl searching for family among famed Jewish bourgeois department store owners, the Blanchards.
Possibly my favorite story followed the LeSourd family of socialist revolutionaries beginning with the Paris Commune. Though the Communards’ political fire was quickly snuffed out during “The Bloody Week” by the French army, the beliefs and ideals of that time resonated with Parisians throughout history—and the LeSourd men would continue their fight against the aristocracy and the monarchy generation after generation, their paths intimately crossed with the paths of the DeCygne family.
For those of us who like a sweeping epic novel, with history dappled-in like a Monet waterlily, Paris does not disappoint. Rutherfurd writes a truly delicious book, and I’m très looking forward to reading his others. I recommend cracking Paris open while drinking a glass of vin ordinaire, wearing a béret on a park bench, with revolution blossoming in your heart—just to get the full Franchy experience. But because this book is huge, you might want to get it on your e-reader. Bonne chance, mes révolutionnaires!