The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure
ISBN (Audio): 9780804190817 / (Physical): 9781402284311
Audio length: ~11 hrs / Physical length: 371 pages
Published October 8th, 2013 by Sourcebooks / Random House Audio
Genre: Historical Fiction
This novel takes you all the way back to a Nazi–Occupied Paris. You follow an architect named Lucien Bernard, who doesn’t really have strong feelings toward Jews, until a business magnate, Manet, approaches him and offers him a large sum of money. The money comes with a risk—devising secret hiding places for Jews. Lucien cannot resist the challenge and starts creating ingenious designs—within a column, behind a fireplace, inside a drainpipe, etc,. Unfortunately, one of his creations fails, and the job becomes personal. It hits him harder than he imagined it would.
Bernard is in danger the whole time due to Colonel Schlegal and his minions. Schlegal will flush out every single Jew in Paris and send them to concentration camps.
To hide the fact that Lucien is helping Jews, he creates a design for a new factory that will produce clothing for Hitler’s Reich. He begins to bond with Officer Herzog, another lover of architecture. Herzog doesn’t like the Jews, but he doesn’t agree with how things are done. Eventually, Lucien is given an apprentice, Alain, who will be his alibi if caught. Now, this wouldn’t be a historical fiction novel without romance. Alain’s lover, Adele, becomes friends with Lucien, who is already married to a woman named Celeste. Celeste does eventually leave him later in the novel. She just doesn’t agree with the views she assumes he has. Come to find out that Alain and Adele are connected to the Gestapo.
Amidst all the hustle and bustle, Manet convinces Lucien to adopt an orphaned Jew named Pierre, who ends up having Lucien’s back the entire time. He doesn’t have a good feeling about Alain, so he follows him while Alain follows Lucien.
Lucien also meets a women named Bette Tullard, who takes in Jewish children for Mrs. Kaminsky, Bette’s neighbors. Mrs. Kaminsky claims that the French police are coming to arrest her family. Bette and Lucien do meet and they quickly become my favorite couple.
The novel ends with Lucien driving all the kids toward Switzerland. It is the only way that they could escape all of the horror. He realizes that this is his family now.
“It bothered Lucien that a German could value such beautiful things—like an ape appreciating a string of pearls or an ancient Grecian red-and-black vase. They were monsters without a shred of decency, yet they could hold the same things in high esteem as a Frenchman could. It didn’t seem right.”
I read the majority of this as an audio book, but I did switch it up with the physical. I enjoyed the narrator quite a bit. I found his voice to be very relaxing.
I noticed reviews have talked a lot about the characters. They mentioned that they were flat / there was a lot of sexism. I do agree to an extent, but the book is set in Nazi–Occupied Paris, and I don’t think sexism was the biggest issue. I’m sure women were treated like slabs of meat. That’s even one of my biggest issues with Lucien—he treats women like they should bow down to him. I know it’s probably difficult to read about in 2019, but I’m sure that was reality during that time. I just don’t want someone to go into this book and hate it because of the sexism aspect. Go into it understanding the time period.
Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. My one critique is that it does become drawn out in certain places. I will also say that the characters aren’t incredible. They fall a little flat, but it didn’t bother me too much.
The writing was well done and I thought the story was really interesting. I didn’t have a all-time favorite character because they were all in the morally gray zone. You could tell that some had good intentions, they just didn’t know how to apply those good intentions (if that makes any sense). Lucien was definitely a good example of that. Then you had characters who tried to act like they had good intentions when they really didn’t. I’m sure it was extremely difficult to live during that time period. I couldn’t imagine.
I could tell that the author did a lot of research, and he knew exactly what he was talking about. I would read more by this author, and I recommend this book if you are interested!
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