Cover Image: The Parisians

The Parisians

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Member Reviews

A few twists and turns made the book readable. Could have done without the pet names. Doe and Faun were over the edge. Interesting in that several characters were real people. Would recommend it to those who have not  read a lot of about France during World War II.
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“The superior soul turns to beauty as a flower turns to light.”
Set in 1939, The Parisians begins with Olivia Olsen who grew up in Minnesota and moved to Paris to be a painter. Now she paints tourist’s portraits in order to make ends meet. She is working one day when she meets a man, a Parisian, who commissions her to paint his portrait. The man’s name is Fabrice Darnell, an anarchist essayist who has clearly given her the last of the money in his wallet in exchange for the pleasure of her company while she paints him. When he comes to pick up the finished painting he invites Olivia to dinner where she meets his mother, a housekeeper at the Ritz, who suggests that Olivia take a job there as a chambermaid. Soon Olivia has fallen in love with Fabrice and is working at the the hotel.

Olivia’s story intersects with the lives of people staying at the Ritz which include Coco Chanel; Duchess Antoinette d’Harcourt, a dilettante poet, and Arletty, an actress with whom she is having an affair; and then, after the start of the war, Hermann Goering and the highest ranking German officers. When Olivia becomes pregnant and Fabrice is arrested for printing a radical newspaper, things become dire indeed and Olivia comes to the realization that she has underestimated the seriousness of the situation. She has been entertaining a romantic illusion and now her eyes are wide open. Olivia joins the Resistance, passing high level information that she has procured at the Ritz to the Allies.

“Since the Occupation, Montmartre had been a ghost town at night, the silence only broken by the barking of dogs abandoned by owners who had fled Paris. The full moon tonight was making them howl incessantly. It sounded to Olivia like the lamenting of lost souls.”
The character descriptions in this book are lovely. One woman is described as having eyes that were “the washed-out green of a distant prairie.” The prose in this novel is exquisite and the research is impeccable. Small details like the ‘coffee’ made from burned acorns that the French drank after the German occupation of Paris lend authenticity to the story. 

The author’s note at the end of the book was extremely interesting. I knew, of course, that a few of the characters in the book were real people, but I had no idea that so many were. 

Thank you to Net Galley and Lake Union Publishing for providing me with an Advanced Reader Copy of this book.

Grade: A/A-
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If you're looking for an effortless read that juxtaposes the lifestyles of rich Nazi sympathizers and struggling Resistance workers in Paris during World War II, you'll enjoy this. It really made my commute zip along. If, however, you like your books with some depth and writing that rises above the workmanlike, this will disappoint. The characters never blossomed into three-dimensional. Their motivations seemed pat and superficial. For instance, did Arletty, one of the biggest French film stars of the time, really plunge so deeply in love with a Nazi officer that she didn't give more than a passing thought to how she was betraying her audience and her country? And there's a lovemaking scene that I think qualifies for the Bad Sex Writing Award. All that said, as escapism that introduces you to the role of the Paris Ritz (and the sumptuousness of the hotel itself) and the attitudes of French society types during the war, this will please.
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I finished this book about three hours ago, and I already want to go back and read it again!

“The Parisians” by Marius Gabriel was a window into a Paris I always knew existed, but have never been able to imagine. My Grandmother was born and raised in France, and I visit as often as I can. Paris is my beautiful sanctuary. As such, Paris under Nazi occupation has always just been too horrible for me to imagine.

That said, I was keenly interested in the history of the Nazi occupation of Paris, and Gabriel's retelling was both enlightening and heartbreaking. He takes the reader from a vibrant, opulent City to a dark one in which danger lurks around every corner. And yet, somehow her majesty remains. I was reminded of the motto of Paris "Fluctuat nec mergitur" which, roughly translated means: "Tossed by the waves, She does not sink"

The Ritz stands resolute throughout the novel. She is compromised, housing foreign troops. Still, her opulence and majesty, as always, tempt and embrace some, while taunting and excluding others.

The three main characters' stories are unforgettable, each struggling to keep her footing, each navigating a drastically changed Paris under the pressure of a time when women were prized for their beauty and little else, under the thumbs of the men in their lives, and of the mighty Nazi regime.

Reading this sweeping book is a lesson in the axiom "Hindsight is 20/20".  With the clear vision of the 21st century, it is all too easy to want to shake certain characters and shout "No!!! The Nazis are on the wrong side of history!". What Gabriel does so masterfully in this book is illustrate that no decision is clear-cut in the moment.

During WWII, character was magnified by the time and the circumstances. The strong stood tall, even in the face of a brutal world. In sharp contrast, wounded souls did what they could to survive, even if that meant putting morals and social mores aside.

I have often wondered how love can exist during war. The two seem so antithetical. But love, like spirit, endures. Gabriel brings the reader into the hearts and minds of his characters to show how love, as breath, is not a choice, but a compulsion.

This book was one of the most vivid and enthralling I've ever read, an unforgettable portrait of an unfathomable time.

I'm off to read everything I can find by Marius Gabriel. As a reader, that's the highest compliment I can give.
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Recently, I've become drawn to books about WWII, especially those books that focus on the women during the war. And this book did not disappoint! I was captivated by Olivia, Arletty, and Coco Chanel's varying points of view. Viewing the war from such different perspectives encouraged me to look at WWII through a different lens but still centered on how women were affected by the war and the Nazi invasion. The descriptions of the Ritz are rich, beautiful, and deep. I was hooked from the very first chapter. Marius Gabriel weaves a story you won't soon forget. GET THIS BOOK TODAY!
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