Began a bender focusing on the Nazi occupation of Paris. It all started in a small French village where a young girl (it actually started in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where a young girl began filching her mother’s library books, like “The Godfather” and lots of Erica Jong, and tearing through them…). In a world where ethnic and racial conflicts (and simply racism) are so common, maybe my subconscious stepped up and chose these.
Most of “Mademoiselle Chanel” by C.W. Gortner, a bio about “Coco” (Gabrielle) Chanel, was set in occupied Paris. It was hard to switch to reading biography, though I did get that “refreshed” feeling you get from moving from fiction to biography. I know that sounds like a hygiene commercial but it’s true. The author is a former fashion executive who was raised in Europe. With a different genre come different expectations and this bio did not let me down.
On to “Sarah’s Key” by Tatiana De Rosnay, a Franco-British-Russian journalist and writer. This was a heartrending book whose peak event (spoiler alert!) I could’ve guessed would not be happy. I usually don’t try and guess endings anyhow; too wrapped up in the process of reading.
Sarah’s Key is set in Nazi-occupied Paris at the beginning and intertwines two sets of events: Those of a young girl from a Jewish family living in Paris and another of an American-born journalist who follows the trail of what happened to this girl after her family is captured in the terrible Vel D’Hiv roundup. So well done that I’m interested in reading other novels by Ms. De Rosnay.
Now I’m making my way through “When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation” by Ronald C. Rosbottom, which The Guardian apparently didn’t love. Coincidentally I found this work of nonfiction on a Park Slope street [admitting here I’m a book-scrounger but, hey, sometimes there’s gold in them thar hills and the locals can be unusually well-read]. Slow going and there is so much written on this time in France’s history that I could easily find something else on the topic. I’m categorizing When Paris.. as a skimmer and not a close read.
Towards the end of the fiction phase of this bender I had some sad news: An old friend passed away. We were grad school classmates and then friends, and then coworkers (she hired me to work at the Internet agency where she was a manager.) I met my husband at that job. We lost touch for a bit but then I’d run into her at various kid-venues after both of us had children and we reconnected. She was a New Yorker, a mother, a writer, incredibly driven, a world-traveler, a wife, a friend. I’m not sure which one of these she was proudest of; a person can be so many things at once as the forces of one’s life coalesce to form a constantly-shifting being.
Another identity was that of “person who has cancer,” though she never let that one dominate; see her incredibly smart and creative “Identity Shift Project.” It is so hard to accept that I’ll never see her or have a conversation with her again.