13 rue Therese by Elena Mauli Shapiro – Book Review

13 rue Therese by Elena Mauli Shapiro
Published by Reagan Arthur Books, an imprint of Hachette

Josianne has a box, the contents of which can induce fevers. Since she received the box, she has gifted it to a variety of men, scholars, but the box always makes its way home to Josianne. Her latest find is Trevor Stratton, an American translator of French who has come to work for her university. She hides the box in a file cabinet in his office, letting him believe he has discovered a hidden gem. And, indeed, the box has a fabulous cache of historical material, surrounding Louise Bruent, a French woman living at 13, rue Therese between World War I and World War II. As Trevor dives deeper into the artifacts in the box, he finds himself increasingly pulled into Lousie’s world.

I cannot decide whether the writing or the illustrations of 13, rue Therese are more striking. The author, Elena Mauli Shapiro, actually lived in an apartment below the real Louise Brunet in Paris and was left with a box of her possessions when the older woman died, many of the contents of which are reproduced in color right in the pages of the book, in line with the text. For example, from page 77:

Despite his horrid spelling and his atrocious punctuation, you can see Camille is clever: he has punned. If you look very closely at the front side of the card, you can just make out that he has rubbed off the manufactured greeting that was previously there and written in his own hand, “Thoughts of the absent.” The French word for “thought” (pensée) is also the French word for “pansy,” which is the flower pictured therein. So, he is giving her flower/thoughts, on paper.

All of the illustrations from the book can actually be found on the book’s website, along with their accompanying text, and even a clip of the audio book.

Shapiro has written an incredibly creative book. Not only has she reimagined and recreated in vivid detail the life of a real woman, illustrating it with real artifacts, but she has also given us a novel that plays with the constraints of time in amazing ways. Trevor becomes obsessed with the Louise and the contents of the box to the extent where he – and the reader – is unsure of where or when he is at time. History and the present collide in a puzzling, but ultimately fascinating way.

You must be ready to think and be immersed when you pick up 13 rue Therese, but for the reader who is prepared for this, it is well worth the read. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells |Indiebound | Amazon*

Check out the 13, rue Therese website, very interactive and cool.

Source: publisher.
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