The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure – Pre-pub Preview, Part III

Today I’m previewing an October book for which I’m very excited for, The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure. Go on, check out the publisher’s description and tell me that you aren’t intrigued:

Like most gentiles in Nazi-occupied Paris, architect Lucien Bernard has little empathy for the Jews. So when a wealthy industrialist offers him a large sum of money to devise secret hiding places for Jews, Lucien struggles with the choice of risking his life for a cause he doesn’t really believe in. Ultimately he can’t resist the challenge and begins designing expertly concealed hiding spaces-behind a painting, within a column, or inside a drainpipe-detecting possibilities invisible to the average eye. But when one of his clever hiding spaces fails horribly and the immense suffering of Jews becomes incredibly personal, he can no longer deny reality.

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure will be released October 8. It is an October Indie Next Pick, a Library Journal starred review, and a National Reading Group Month Selection.

Pre-order:
Indiebound
Amazon
Barnes & Noble

I’m sharing part three of a four part excerpt. For the first two parts, visit Beth Fish Reads and Erika Robuck’s Muse. The final part will be on Linus’s Blanket tomorrow.

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure
Excerpt, Part 3 of 4

Lucien checked his watch as he opened the massive wood door of 28 rue Galilee. It gave him a great sense of satisfaction that he was one minute early for his appointment. What other man could walk all the way across town, almost get shot by a German, clean a dead man’s blood off his jacket, and make it in time? The experience reinforced his belief that one should always budget an extra fifteen minutes to get to a client appointment. His prized Cartier watch, which his parents had given him upon his graduation from college, said 2:00 p.m., which was actually the time in Germany. The Germans’ first official act had been to impose the Reich’s time zone on occupied France. It was really 1:00 p.m. French time. After two years of occupation, the forced time change still annoyed Lucien, even more than the swastikas and ugly Gothic-lettered signs the Germans had plastered on all the city’s landmarks.

He stepped inside and was relieved to be in the dark, cool shade of the foyer. He loved these apartment blocks, created by Baron Haussmann when he tore down medieval Paris in the 1850s to re-create the city. Lucien admired the stonework and the strong horizontal lines created by the rows of windows and their metal balconies. He lived in a building on the rue du Caire that was similar to this one.

Since 1931, Lucien had abandoned all historical and classical references in his work to become a pure modernist architect, embracing the aesthetic of the Bauhaus, the style created by the German architect Walter Gropius that pioneered modern architecture and design (the one instance in which Teutonic taste definitely triumphed over the Gallic). Still, he admired these great apartment blocks that Napoleon III had championed. His admiration had grown when he’d visited his brother in New York before the war. The apartment buildings there were junk compared to those in Paris.

He walked to the concierge’s apartment, directly to the left of the entry. The glass door yawned open, and an old woman smoking a cigarette was sitting at a table covered with a garish yellow-flowered cloth.

Lucien cleared his throat, and she said, without moving a muscle and still gazing into space, “He’s in 3B…and the lift’s out.”

As Lucien climbed the ornate curving stair to the third floor, his heart began to race-not only because he was out of shape, but also because he was so anxious. Would Manet have a real project for him, or would this meeting lead to nothing? And if it was a project, would it be a chance to show his talent?

Lucien knew he had talent. He’d been told by a couple of well-known architects, whom he had worked for in Paris after graduating from school. With a few years’ experience and belief in his ability, he then went out on his own. It was hard to build up a practice, doubly hard because he was a modernist and modern architecture was just beginning to be accepted. Most clients still wanted something traditional. Nevertheless, he was able to earn a steady living. But just as an actor needed a break-out role to become a star, an architect needed a career-making project. And Lucien, now thirty-five, hadn’t managed to land that one all-important project. He’d come close only once, when he’d been a finalist for a new public library but had been beaten out by Henri Devereaux, whose uncle’s brother-in-law was the deputy minister of culture. Ability wasn’t enough; one needed the right connections like Devereaux always seemed to have-that and luck.

He looked down at his shoes as they scraped the marble treads of the great stair. They were his client shoes, the one good pair he wore to meetings. A little worn, but they still looked shiny and fashionable, and the soles were in good shape. With leather in short supply, once a Frenchman’s shoes wore out he turned to wooden soles or ones of compressed paper, which didn’t fare so well in winter. Lucien was glad he still had a pair of leather-soled shoes. He hated the sound of wooden soles clattering on the streets of Paris, which reminded him of the clogs worn by peasants.

Lucien was startled when he looked up and found a pair of very expensive dark brown shoes on the third floor landing right in front of his face. Lucien’s gaze traveled up the sharply creased trouser legs to a suit jacket, then to the face of Auguste Manet.

“Monsieur Bernard, what a pleasure it is to meet you.”

Before Lucien reached the top step, Manet extended his hand.

Lucien pulled himself up the railing until he stood next to a lean, white-haired man in his seventies, with cheekbones that seemed to be chiseled from stone. And tall. Manet towered above Lucien. He seemed even taller than de Gaulle.

“The pleasure is my mine, monsieur.”

“Monsieur Gaston was always raving about the office building you did for him, so I had to see it for myself. A beautiful job.” The old man’s handshake was strong and confident, something you’d expect from a man who’d made millions.

They were off to an excellent start, Lucien thought as he took an instant liking to this elderly, aristocratic businessman. Back in 1937, he’d done a building on the rue Servan for Charles Gaston, the owner of an insurance company. Four stories of limestone with a curving glass-stair tower. Lucien thought it was the best thing he’d ever designed.

“Monsieur Gaston was very kind to refer you to me. How can I help you?” Most of the time, Lucien was open to the usual small talk before getting down to business. But he was nervous and wanted to see whether a real job would come out of this.

Manet turned toward the open doors of 3B and Lucien followed. Even the back of Monsieur Manet was impressive. His posture was ramrod straight, and his suit was expensive and fit him impeccably-the German major would’ve wanted the name of his tailor.

“Well, Monsieur Bernard, let me tell you what I’ve got in mind. A guest of mine will be staying here for a while, and I wish to make some special alterations to the apartment to accommodate him,” Manet said as they walked slowly through the place.

Lucien couldn’t imagine what the old man would want. The vacant apartment was gorgeous, with high ceilings and tall windows, ornate wood paneling, huge columns that framed the wide entries into the main rooms, beautiful fireplaces with marble surrounds, and parquet floors. And all the bathrooms and the kitchen looked up to date with porcelain-on-steel sinks and tubs with chrome fixtures. The unit was large by Parisian standards, at least twice as large in floor area as a normal apartment.

Manet stopped and faced Lucien.

“I’ve been told that an architect looks at a space differently from the rest of us. The average person sees a room as it is, but instinctively the architect envisions how it could be changed for the better. Is that true?”

“Absolutely,” replied Lucien with pride. “A man would view a run-down, out-of-date flat as very unappealing, but an architect, in his imagination, would renovate that space into something quite fashionable.”

Lucien was getting excited. Maybe the old man wanted him to redo the place from top to bottom.

“I see. Tell me, monsieur, do you like a challenge? To solve a unique problem?”

“Yes, indeed, I love to come up with a solution for any architectural problem,” said Lucien, “and the more challenging, the better.” He hoped he was telling Manet what he wanted to hear. If Manet asked him to fit the Arc de Triomphe in here, he’d say it was no problem. You didn’t turn down work in wartime. Any fool knew that.

“That’s good.” Manet walked across the salon and put his hand on Lucien’s shoulder in a fatherly way. “I think it’s time to give you a little more background on this project, but first let us talk about your fee. I have a figure in mind-twelve thousand francs.”

“Twelve hundred francs is most generous, monsieur.”

“No, I said twelve thousand.”

There was silence. Digits formed in Lucien’s mind as if a teacher were writing them methodically on a blackboard-first a one, then a two, a comma, and three zeroes. After he mentally verified the number, he said, “Monsieur, that…that is more than generous; it’s ludicrous!”

“Not if your life depended on it.”

TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW at Linus’s Blanket

Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2013

Margot by Jillian Cantor – Book Review

Margot by Jillian Cantor
Published by Riverhead Book, an imprint of Penguin

We all know the story of Anne Frank, thanks to the diary she kept, published by her father. Less attention is typically paid to Anne’s older sister, Margot, although we know that she, like her sister, died before the end of the war. But what if Margot survived?

In Jillian Cantor’s Margot, Margo Frank is, indeed, still alive and living in Philadelphia after the war. She no longer goes by Margot, though. Now she is Margie Franklin, a Gentile who works in a Jewish law firm and refuses to ever remove her sweater, even in the heat of summer. Margie believes she is relatively comfortable in her life, but in 1959, the film version of The Diary of Anne Frank is in theaters and everyone Margie knows is seeing the movie and wants to discuss it, bringing up memories that Margie has worked so hard to bury.

Margot is an incredibly engaging read. At its core, it is a story of identity, of the ways you can and cannot change who you really are. What most concerned me, going into the book, was how Cantor would find a plausible way to get Margot to Philadelphia and even more so to make her deny her past, but the character motivations make sense, and even Margot’s survival contains echoes of the stories of other Holocaust survivors. What ended up being the best part about Margot, though, were the ways in which Margie’s circumstances challenged her to reexamine the life she lived Before, as well as the decisions she had made after coming to America.

Margot is a really lovely book, well-written and with real heart. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2013

I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits – Audiobook Review

I am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits, narrated by Rosalyn Landor
Published in audio by Random House Audio, published in print by Hogarth Books, both imprints of Random House

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

Sweeping from the Central European countryside just before World War II to Paris to contemporary Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I Am Forbidden brings to life four generations of one Satmar family.

Opening in 1939 Transylvania, five-year-old Josef witnesses the murder of his family by the Romanian Iron Guard and is rescued by a Gentile maid to be raised as her own son. Five years later, Josef rescues a young girl, Mila, after her parents are killed while running to meet the Rebbe they hoped would save them. Josef helps Mila reach Zalman Stern, a leader in the Satmar community, in whose home Mila is raised as a sister to Zalman’s daughter, Atara. As the two girls mature, Mila’s faith intensifies, while her beloved sister Atara discovers a world of books and learning that she cannot ignore. With the rise of communism in central Europe, the family moves to Paris, to the Marais, where Zalman tries to raise his children apart from the city in which they live.

When the two girls come of age, Mila marries within the faith, while Atara continues to question fundamentalist doctrine. The different choices the two sisters makes force them apart until a dangerous secret threatens to banish them from the only community they’ve ever known.

Thoughts on the story:

There are times early on in I am Forbidden when the reader may wonder exactly what is going on and have trouble following the threads of relationship. By the time the family moves to Williamsburg, however, Marouk’s narrative straightens itself out and becomes increasingly engaging. That Satmar society is not one I am familiar with, and it was fascinating to learn more about them through Mila and Atara and their differing views on their faith. Markovits seems to be very respectful of the culture, even when he seems to disagree with some of the specifics – or at least his characters do. As a result, I am Forbidden is filled with genuine emotion and a quiet drama.

Thoughts on the audio production:

In I am Forbidden Rosalyn Landor is, as always, fabulous. She brings poise and a quiet dignity to the story, which works very well with the world Markovits creates. Landor is one of those narrators I could simply sit and listen to for hours, she’s just that good, and I am Forbidden is no exception.

For more on the audio production, please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

Overall:

I am Forbidden is a lovely, quiet novel that works very well in audio, largely thanks to Rosalyn Landor’s performance. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Print*
Indiebound: Print*
Audible.com

I’m launching a brand-new meme every Friday! I encourage you to review any audiobooks you review on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: Audiofile Magazine.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2012

The Marriage Artist by Andrew Winer – Book Review

The Marriage Artist by Andrew Winer
Published by Picador, an imprint of Macmillan

When art critic Daniel Lichtmann’s wife is found dead next to the equally lifeless body of an artist – one with whom Daniel had a somewhat antagonistic relationship, no less – it seems that Daniel’s life, too, is over. Depressed at the thought that Aleksandra, who was actually Daniel’s second wife, had had such an intimate affair with Benjamin Wind that she even died with him in a supposed suicide, Daniel is all but unable to function, and seems on the verge of losing his job. One might think that Daniel would at least be glad that Benjamin, the man who stole his wife, is dead or, if he is upset, that he might be upset at his inability to take his own revenge. Instead, Daniel almost mourns for the man as he does for his wife. It is lucky that he does so, though, because at Benjamin’s funeral Daniel meets a man claiming to be Benjamin’s grandfather. This man, Max, turns on its head everything that Daniel thought he knew about Benjamin and his relationship with Aleksandra by introducing Daniel to the secret past of Benjamin’s family.

To be completely honest, I was a bit concerned starting The Marriage Artist. Suicide, lust, and infidelity in the art world just didn’t seem like an appealing premise at the time I picked it up, but I also couldn’t put it off because the BOOK CLUB discussion was looming. What I found, though, was a haunting story of love, marriage, and the ever-present influence of the past. Daniel’s story is told in parallel with that of Josef Pick, a Viennese Jew whose story begins in the years before World War II, and who is famous for his creation of marriage contracts. Either of the stories might have been overwhelming on their own, for both are filled with longing and heartbreak, but the way they are woven together prevents either one from becoming overly depressing and builds anticipation for both stories.

The Marriage Artist is a masterful example of a dual time period narrative. The stories work together beautifully, each enhancing the other. In addition, Winer takes what could have been a depressing or unappealing story and set of characters, and works them together in such a way that they hold the reader’s interest with ease. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher for BOOK CLUB.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2011

The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva – Book Review

The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva
Published by Putnam Books, an imprint of Penguin

When an art restorer is shot in his home in the middle of a summer rash with art theft, it seems to be no more than a robbery gone wrong. Unfortunately, that proves not to be the case. A valuable, almost unknown Rembrandt is missing. There’s too much at stake to make this public knowledge, so the art dealer who has been in possession of the Rembrandt contacts his old friend Gabriel Allon, an art restorer and retired Israeli spy and assassin. As Gabriel begins to investigate the history of the painting, he discovers it has a very dicey provenance, disappearing from the possession of a Jewish man in Amsterdam during World War II. This history makes things personal for Gabriel, and he is determined to do whatever it takes to find this painting and get to the bottom of the theft.

What a smart thriller! One thing I really appreciated is that Silva does not treat his readers as if they were stupid. One thing that drives me crazy about a lot of thrillers is that authors often write unnecessarily short chapters with ridiculous cliffhangers in order to keep the story moving. Sometimes it works, but oftentimes it is simply obnoxious. Silva does not indulge in any of that. His chapters are as long as they need to be, without any manufactured drama. It made me feel as if Silva valued my intelligence as a reader. Yes, it meant that “The Rembrandt Affair” started more slowly than many thrillers, but Silva built suspense organically, the tension growing as Gabriel got deeper into the case. Indeed, every time I picked up the book, it grew more and more difficult to put it back down.

Gabriel, by the way, is my new favorite spy. Yes, he’s an assassin, but he’s an assassin with a conscious. Plus, he is a cultured, sophisticated art restorer – and this is a real passion, not simply his cover. And he’s in a monogamous relationship, so no oh-so-predictable sexual tension between the main character and the woman he must work with, which was refreshing for a change.

Let me also just say, this is one of the most beautiful hardcover books I’ve seen in some time. The art on the inside of the front and back covers was lovely, and the page before the title page was gorgeous, looking as if it had been painted, with texture so realistic I could almost feel it. And the paper it was printed on was rapturous. Yes, I know, that sounds far too strong a word for paper, but it was so incredibly thick and luxurious that every time I turned the page I stopped and thumbed the page. Actually, I was a bit worried when I first saw the book, because I assumed from the heft that it was well over 700 pages, but it was really just under 500 pages of wonderfully thick paper.

A great, smart thriller in an absolutely beautiful package. Personally I can’t wait to get my hands on more books from the Gabriel Allon series. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound
.*
Amazon
.*

This review was done with a book received from Lydia at Putnam.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.