‘How much do we really need to know if we are to live a valuable life’
Paris Echo is the latest release from renowned author Sebastian Faulks, one of the many writers making an appearance at this years Cheltenham Literature Festival.
The Cheltenham Literature Festival runs from the 5-14th of October, as a festival of bookish revelry, featuring an amazing range of speakers including Sebastian Faulks, Adam Kay, Prue Leith, Tara Westover, Yotam Ottolenghi, Susan Calman, Patrick Gale, Nadiya Hussain, Gail Honeyman, Esi Edugyan, Sayaka Murata, Greg Wise, Robert Peston, Masatsugu Ono and Graham Norton.
I am delighted to have my review of Paris Echo for you all today, recently published by Hutchinson (Penguin Random House Group). I would like to thank Midas PR for my beautiful hardback copy.
About the Book:
Here is Paris as you have never seen it before – a city in which every building seems to hold the echo of an unacknowledged past, the shadows of Vichy and Algeria.
American postdoctoral researcher Hannah and runaway Moroccan teenager Tariq have little in common, yet both are susceptible to the daylight ghosts of Paris. Hannah listens to the extraordinary witness of women who were present under the German Occupation; in her desire to understand their lives and through them her own, she finds a city bursting with clues and connections. Out in the migrant suburbs, Tariq is searching for a mother he barely knew. For him, in his innocence, each boulevard, Métro station and street corner is a source of surprise.
In this urgent and deeply moving novel, Faulks deals with questions of empire, grievance, and identity. With great originality and a dark humour, Paris Echo asks how much we really need to know if we are to live a valuable life.
Paris Echo is a book that I have been looking forward to reading, as I am a long time fan of Sebastian Faulks. Having loved the French Trilogy, Birdsong has always been one of my top reads ever. I’m always hesitant in picking up a new release from any author I admire, as my expectations are always quite high. So what did I think….
Paris Echo tells the story of two lost souls looking to the past in an attempt to move forward with their lives. It raises the question of how important is it to know so much about the history of past generations in order to live a fulfilled life in the present.
Hannah is an American postdoctoral researcher in her late thirties, returning to Paris to carry out some research into how the women of France survived during the German Occupation. Hannah had spent time in Paris ten years previously and her visit had left her bereft and heartbroken. Growing up Hannah was quite an insular child, with books being her best friends. She didn’t mix too well with other children, preferring to be on her own, lost between the pages of a novel. Her path into continued education didn’t really surprise Hannah and her first trip to Paris opened up a whole new world to her. She discovered a city that enthralled her and of course she found romance.
Now, back after ten years, Hannah is very focused on her work and sets about uncovering some of the stories of the women who remained in Paris during WW2. As Hannah listens to the audio of some of these women, we are transported back to an occupied Paris and the Vichy government. Hannah carefully transcribes what she can and with the assistance of an old friend she gets to meet one of these women.
Hannah walks the streets of Paris and makes a journey to the Natzweiler Concentration camp in the Vosges Mountains. We are reminded of the horrors that were carried out there, in particular the true story of Andrée Borrel, a member of the French Resistance. Hannah gets very caught up in the stories of these women and soon her reality gets a little blurred as the echos of the past haunt her thoughts.
Moroccan teenager, Tariq, runs away from his home and arrives in Paris penniless and homeless. Tariq is aware that his mother spent time in Paris and he feels a need to retrace her life and perhaps walk a little in her shoes. Tariq witnesses a very different side to Paris. His steps take him into the outskirts of the city, a place where immigrants from many countries are trying to make a living and make a home. He travels around the subterranean network of the Metro meeting all sorts of folk and Tariq witnesses the echos of a different Paris, a Paris that he wasn’t quite expecting.
Hannah and Tariq are very different people in so many ways but their paths cross, as they both search in their past for something to cling to. Sebastian Faulks intertwines their stories with factual events, reminding the reader of the horrors of the Occupation and the Algerian War, which resulted in some terrible atrocities on the streets of Paris.
In reading Paris Echo I was reminded of a book I have previously read by Alex Christofi, Let Us Be True. Both books feature similar historical references and were both fascinating insights into those particular periods in Parisian/French history.
Paris Echo is quite a literary read and, to be quite honest, I’m still a little unsure of my feelings about it. I seem to be more appreciative of the style as I step back a little further from it, which is quite an odd feeling. For me, it was not quite as compelling as Birdsong, it did not have the same enduring impact on me.
Paris Echo is quite a complex tale. At times I found myself questioning what was real and what was imagined. In hindsight I think that that is exactly what Sebastian Faulks is looking to achieve. It is a book about the past and the echos we hear as we move through our present. I find myself mulling over it’s content and it’s message, asking myself….DO we need to cling to our past so much in order to live a valuable existence?
I’ll leave you with a quote from Victor Hugo that is mentioned in the opening pages
‘What is history? An echo of the past in the future. A shadow of the future on the past.’
Original. Complex. Thoughtful
Purchase Link ~ Paris Echo