Friday, April 06, 2007

#22 - April in Paris

I'm glad to be back from conference—it was a long week. Since I haven't read anything new, I'm really happy that Michael Wallner's April in Paris has finally been published. The German entry in my Around the World in 52 Books challenge, I finished this novel while we were on vacation in Cuba. It's not saying much, considering how awful certain parts of that trip were (ahem, the hotels), that I preferred to be reading rather than watching yet another Dirty Jobs marathon on one of the two illegal American television stations in our room at night.

Anywaaay, behind-the-scenes reading aside, I really enjoyed this novel. It's captivating and engaging without being overly wordy (it's a relatively short 256 pages). Set in Paris during the Second World War, April in Paris tells the story of Michel Roth, a German soldier stationed in French capital who falls in love with Chantal, a resistance fighter.

Roth speaks impeccable French, and his post in the German army is that of an interpreter. Knowing that he could be charged with treason or worse, he sneaks out at night in a white suit, changing in bombed-out Parisian buildings, and walks the city, long to pass for anything other than the enemy. On one of his walks, he sees Chantal, and begins to follow her. She resists him at first, doesn't trust his perfect French, his made-up story, and as the truth comes out, on both sides, they do fall in love.

When a tragic act of the French Resistance finds them out in many different ways, the inevitable reality of the war breaks apart any chance they might have had, in other circumstances, to be together. There's an aspect of a good thriller in this novel, and Michel is a thoroughly sympathetic character, despite the fact that he was an officer in the German army. In a sense, the novel reminded me of that one scene in Band of Brothers where the Germans were singing across the line on Christmas Eve, about how despite the politics and the absolutely evil actions of the company of men in charge of Michel's existence, he's still human. He still has feelings; he still has a story worth telling, worth hearing.

The setting, occupied Paris, evokes such powerful images, and similar to Nemirovsky, but without the overtones of her giant Russian-like writing style, Wallner's novel brings the time alive through his sharp prose and tight narrative. And not to be unbearably cliched, but the ultimate tragedy of the situation is Shakespearean and completely doomed from the beginning, which somehow makes the story utterly satisfying.

1 comment:

monica said...

I loved that book, really I cried the first time I read it,..

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