Tag Archives: Paris

The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher

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I received this book from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

This fictionalized version of the true story of the founder of Shakespeare and Company in Paris (Sylvia Beach) was very well-researched and it was clear the author knew her subject well. The bibliography at the end of the book was extensive and I admire the author for all the hard work she did to familiarize herself with Paris in the early part of the 20th Century as well as her subject and the literati of the time. Her writing showed she had great affection for the era and all the inhabitants of the tale.

The friendships of Ms. Beach with Ezra Pound, Earnest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, as well as James Joyce added luster to her life and life to the bookstore. Sylvia battled mightily for James Joyce’s book Ulysses to be published—eventually becoming the publisher herself. The ins and outs of their relationship were explored well by the author of this book. Quite frankly, I didn’t have any idea what kind of person Joyce really was. We’ve all heard about him, of course, but the way he was portrayed in this book made me quite dislike him.  As the book was well-researched (including letters between Beach and Joyce), I don’t doubt the author’s portrayal as accurate.

The face that Ms. Beach and her partner were living openly in a same-sex relationship in the 1920s was remarkable to me. Paris and France were always more liberal than most places—and I was glad to see these relationships (like Gertrude Stein’s as well) were accepted and not looked at askance. There may have been a bit too much behind closed doors scenes for this reader, but it wasn’t too jarring.

I also enjoyed learning more about Ezra Pound and the kind of person he was—a great friend to Ms. Beach. The parts of the book dealing with the publication, banning and legal fights over Ulysses were especially intriguing. The journey to the publication of the book was fascinating and, as a lawyer, I was intrigued by the court battles over obscenity and the banning of the book in the United States.  

This book was a pleasure to read—while based on real people and true events, the author made the history come alive by creating a heroine of Sylvia Beach that showed her as a kind, fascinating individual who stood up for what and who she believed in even if one of those people treated her abominably. I enjoyed the journey of the story and the way the characters were made real and fresh.

The Tartan Pimpernel by Donald Caskie

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I learned about this book on Twitter when a lady I’ve met there, Pauline, from Scotland, tweeted about it. I’d never heard of this Scottish priest and her tweet piqued my curiosity. I found the book online and ordered it. I didn’t have a chance to read it right away, and now that I have, I wish I’d made time earlier as it’s truly a lovely, well-written book by an absolutely brave, caring and gentle man who did extraordinary things during WWII to aid allies, soldiers, sailors and private individuals to escape from the Nazis in France.

The Reverend Caskie was from Scotland—Islay—but was the priest of the Scottish church in Paris before and at the time of the German invasion. On the eve of the invasion in 1940, he led his flock in the last Sunday service, packed a bag and left the city on foot. He prayed along the way for the safety of his fellow evacuees as well as the people who had no choice but to stay behind as the enemy closed in.

He made his way to Marseille with some harrowing moments such as being strafed by German pilots along with thousands of other refugees. Many fell dead as they ran. He was also suspected of being a spy and surrounded by angry villagers in one town as he bought a bicycle and didn’t realize it had an iron cross on the back of it.

Once he made it to Marseille, with the aid of a friend, he found a place to stay. In that home, he prayed about what he needed to do. A Voice came to him that clearly called him to give assistance to the people who were in need. He made his way to the American consulate as it was still open and was told about the abandoned sailors’ mission building. He then went to the local police station to get permission to use the building to help stranded British civilians. He was given permission, but told if he helped one soldier or enemy combatant, he would be shut down.

What ensued was a tale of how this gentle man followed his special calling and helped anyone who needed it. How he raised funds to feed these people and how he was approached by the secret services to assist airmen and escaping soldiers into neutral Spain. He had to get civilian clothing for the escapees as well as false papers. He found places to hide them. He risked his life every day and saved quite a large number of men and women. Many of the townspeople of Marseille also aided in hiding these men and in getting supplies and clothing. It was a secret, yet community effort.

I read a book a while back about Nancy Wake, the famous Resistance fighter who was also in Marseille at the time and I was pleased to see some of the same people she worked with in this book. Ian Garrow and the Pat O’Leary group. Pat was actually a Belgian doctor, but during the war, he was an agent who posed as Irish. It was like finding old friends in the pages of this book. I like to think Donald and Nancy knew each other and supported each other’s missions.

Donald Caskie eventually ended up being betrayed and imprisoned. This part of the book was particularly moving. No matter what the Nazis put him through, he kept his faith, even carving Bible verses on the wall with his fingernail—which, he found out a few months later from a cellmate in a different prison, saved that man’s life when he was about to commit suicide.

This is a beautiful book and such bravery from one man is amazing. His faith pulled him through a difficult period of time and he is a true hero. Quiet, unassuming, and just getting on with the task. I highly, highly, recommend this one. It’s a tale of love, compassion in the face of unbearable cruelty, and how even one man (with divine guidance and some friends) can make a world of difference.

Drunk Bee in Paree!

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I’ve recently returned from Paris and one day as I was eating my jambon and fromage omelette with fries (that’s ham and cheese for you English speakers) and sipping a beer for medicinal purposes, this little bee decided to keep me company. If you’ve ever walked on cobblestone streets for days you’ll know what I mean when I say you need a beer for medicinal purposes. It numbs your poor ole feet pretty well. Keep that in mind if  you travel to Europe. It works.

Anyway, this bee was really jonesing for some of my beer so when there was a smidge left, I let him in the glass. He had a grand time sucking up the suds. In fact, he couldn’t seem to stop and he needed some assistance in getting himself out of the glass. Of course, once he was out, he lolled around on my plate in a stupor. Do you think he was drinking for medicinal purposes, too? Were his little feet aching like my big ones? I think I found a soul- or is that sole- mate? 2014-08-20 13.55.10 2014-08-20 13.59.39 2014-08-20 13.57.45