“Sanary says that you have to travel south by water to find answers to your dreams. He says too that you find yourself again there, but only if you get lost on the way – completely lost. Through love. Through longing. Through fear. Down south they listen to the sea in order to understand that laughing and crying sound the same, and that the soul sometimes needs to cry to be happy. ” (p79 – The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George)
Books about Paris are a dime a dozen. With absolutely no facts or figures at my fingertips – other than referring to the plethora of Paris-based flights-of-fancy listed on Packabook – I’d have to say that Paris might just be the number one location for anyone looking to write novels about ‘exotic’ locations. And hey – I’m not knocking it. I’m as big a sucker for a book about Paris as the next Packabooker. You can find more than 100 of them here if you are so inclined.
But I’m delighted to say, that despite its title, The Little Paris Bookshop is not about Paris. No Siree – I’d like to suggest it’s about something even better. It’s about a journey in a barge along the waterways of France FROM Paris all the way down to a coastal utopia in Provence. And that my dear friends, is just about my idea of literary paradise. Oh – and there’s the added bonus that the barge is full of books. Sigh…..
Nina George’s novel takes us to so many places I’m itching to visit, that I’d need a book of my own to write about them all, so I will concentrate on a few of my favorites. This is just a taster, though. You’ll need to read the novel yourself to find out all the other fantabulous potential holiday destinations.
To set the scene – a little about the story…
Jean Perdu is a sad man. For 21 years he’s been wrapping his broken heart up in tissue paper after the love of his life walked out the door of his Paris apartment. And while he makes lots of other people happy with his sensitive and insightful book recommendations (he owns Lulu, a barge bookstore on the River Seine), he can hardly be said to be living anything near a full life. But then a potential love interest appears on the horizon and he receives some news which forces him to question everything he has known about the past. So he decides to unmoor himself from the present, and take himself, Lulu, and two semi-resident cats on a long journey.
The rest you will discover as Jean makes his meandering journey south, picking up some highly entertaining strays along the way, all the while pondering the important questions of life and love. There’s also a few giggles to stop it all getting TOO heavy. When people talk about novels which ‘warm the cockles of your heart’, trust me, this is one. Suitably quirky, well-developed characters, gentle humor, a warm embrace – this book has all of it. And then of course, there are the divine destinations…
Cuisery (a book town on the river Seille in Burgundy)
“Oh, Cuisery! An avid reader will lose his heart here. The whole village is crazy about books – or crazy period – but that’s not unusual. Virtually every shop is a bookstore, a printer’s, a bookbinder’s, a publisher’s, and many of the houses are artists’ workshops. The place is buzzing with creativity and imagination.” (p193)
The book town of Cuisery – Image courtesy of Village du Livre de Cuisery
I thought this must have been a made up place, but it’s not. There really is a ‘town of books’ called Cuisery.
On the first Sunday of each month there is a book market, and the rest of the time, the town is filled with shops renowned for their rare book collections, comics, illuminated manuscripts and other such collectables. The people of Cuisery all get into short story competitions, poetry readings and literary meetings, and in the summer you can even visit a workshop where they print on a 15th century Gutenberg Press.
It seems that in the 1990s Cuisery had a chronic shop closure problem and so the locals decided to offer the empty stores to book sellers and book craftspeople. The result is this tempting little book village. They also do some heavy trade in vinyl records and have lots of summer concerts – just in case you are dragging along a partner who is more a music person than a book person (I speak from experience!) Here’s the town Facebook Page so you can keep up with all their bookish news.
Bonnieux (paradise in Provence)
“‘Bonnieux rises in a stack between the Grand Luberon and the Petit Luberon. Like a five-layered cake,’ Manon had told Perdu. ‘At the very top, the old church and the hundred-year old cedars and the most scenic cemetery in the Luberon. Down at the bottom, the wine-growers, the fruit farmers and the holiday homes. And between them three layers of houses and restaurants. All connected by steep paths and stairs, which explains why all the village girls have such gorgeous strong calves.’ She had shown Jean hers, and he had kissed them.” (p225)
Bonnieux is perhaps one of those places you would never come across if it wasn’t for a novel like The Little Paris Bookshop. And George makes it sounds like an ideal base for your next Provence adventure. You can even eat at the actual restaurant visited by Jean Perdu which “had a wonderful view of the valley and of a red-and-gold sunset that gave way to a clear night sky strewn with stars glistening like ice.” (p270). At time of writing Un p’tit Coin de Cuisine is Trip Advisor’s fifth favorite restaurant in Bonnieux and attracts some rave reviews, though some found the service a little slow. (But hey, who wants to rush things when you are in The Luberon!)
And when I happened across this video about Bonnieux – I’m afraid I was totally hooked. Bonnieux – here I come! Have you ever seen such a happy town?
Sanary-Sur-Mer (a literary refuge by the sea)
“This charming old seafarers’ village: daylight made the colors blossom: by night it was lit by the wide starry sky, and in the evening by the soft rosy light of old-fashioned lanterns. Over there the market with its yellow-and-red awnings under lush plane trees. Around them, soothed by the sun and the sea, people reclined dreamily in their chairs at countless tables in old bars and new cafés.” (p237)
But if I had to pick just one place to visit from this novel, I think it might just be Sanary-Sur-Mer. What a gorgeous place George has introduced us to with this Provencal port town; my only concern being that every man and his poodle is going to want to go there after reading this book!
Not only does Sanary have 280 days of sunshine each year and enticing beaches and vineyards just a hop, skip and jump away, it also has important literary associations.
During the 1930s, German and Austrian writers, artists and intellectuals fleeing the Nazis took refuge in Sanary. Writers such as Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht and Stefan Zweig were among them, while English authors including Aldous Huxley and D.H.Lawrence also based themselves along Sanary’s welcoming shores. But once World War Two was declared in 1939, the exiles were considered enemy aliens, many sent to internment camps. Later some ended up in Nazi concentration camps.
On your own visit to Sanary you can spend your days doing as the exiles did, drinking coffee in the cafes on the harbor. Or you could join a walking tour which takes you to some of the places the writers liked to hang out. You can even rest your head in the hotel that many of them stayed in before discovering their own places to rent. (It’s worth taking advice from TripAdvisor though, on which rooms to ask for).
You will of course need another couple of books to take with you. German-born English writer Sybille Bedford’s semi-autobiographical novel Jigsaw is part set in Sanary, while her memoir Quicksands includes further details of her time living there in the 1930s.
But I want to go on a barge!
“The river wound its way in stately loops through woods and parks. The banks were lined with grand, rambling grounds surrounding houses that hinted at old money and family secrets.” (p87)
I know, it just doesn’t seem right to visit these places in a car when the French waterways have been so temptingly revealed to us by Jean Perdu and his quirky companions. Traveling by barge allows you to meander your way through riverside back yards with a glass of wine in your hand and a straw hat perched prettily on your head rather than pelt down toll-ridden (though exceptionally well-maintained) French highways.
Fortunately there are many barges just ripe for the renting. I suspect finding a company which will follows Perdu’s exact journey might be a bit of a challenge, but you can certainly do some of your favorite parts of it. This one for example, is in Burgundy and goes to Cuisery, or you could speak to The Barge Lady who can apparently help you negotiate the multitude of barging options available so you find your ideal journey. If you come across one that follows the trail of the novel – please do let me know – how fantastic would that be?
Unfortunately I haven’t come across a floating hotel BOOK barge yet – but I think it is a business opportunity just waiting to happen! Anyone up for it?
What can I tell you? I loved this book. I loved the characters, the pace, the scenery – all of it. My only disappointment is that it was written by a woman. The male characters are so loveable that I want to believe there are male writers out there who could create them. Not this time, unfortunately. But don’t let this put you off. If you believe in love and whimsy, in friendship and new beginnings, in taking the time to breath and ingest the world around you – or even if you just enjoy the south of France – then I think you will relish it as well. Yes, it will tug on your heartstrings, yes, you will feel things all wrap up too nicely, yes, you have to have half a belief in romance and sweetness and light – but sometimes, that is exactly what I want from a novel, and The Little Paris Bookshop provides it.
P.S. This book was gifted to me by the wonderful Poppy at Little,Brown so that I could read and review it for you. I think you know me well enough to understand this would not influence my views on the book – if anything it generally makes me a little tougher! Even if Poppy is obviously a very nice person…
Just a quick one today…
I am often disappointed by the Kindle Daily Deals on amazon.com – there’s a plethora of fantasy, paranormal and dull romances (sometimes all in the one novel), but if I do come across a good deal, I usually put in on the Packabook Facebook page.
I know you are not all fans of Facebook, and even if you do follow Packabook there, the chances are the Facebook gods won’t show you the posts in your news feed anyway, so whenever I see a good deal on something I think you might like, I’ll send you a quick email as well. These will always be the kinds of books I wish someone would alert me to when they see them, so trust me, it won’t be that often! And I’ll always put ‘Kindle Deal’ in the subject line, so you know you need to act quickly if you are interested (or, of course, delete it quickly if you are not!).
They will be short and sweet. Just a picture of the book, the Amazon description, and the price – unless I’ve read the book myself of course, in which case I’ll tell you why I think you should buy it! I hope you find this useful…
Please keep in mind that the prices change quickly and without notice, so please always double check it’s the price you want to pay on the Amazon site before you buy it. As always, these links are affiliate links, which means I make a tiny percentage from Amazon if you click through from here, for which I am eternally grateful!
So here’s our first one – Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin
BOOK DESCRIPTION FROM AMAZON: As the daughter of one of Turkey’s last Ottoman pashas, Selva could win the heart of any man in Ankara. Yet the spirited young beauty only has eyes for Rafael Alfandari, the handsome Jewish son of an esteemed court physician. In defiance of their families, they marry, fleeing to Paris to build a new life.
But when the Nazis invade France, the exiled lovers will learn that nothing—not war, not politics, not even religion—can break the bonds of family. For after they learn that Selva is but one of their fellow citizens trapped in France, a handful of brave Turkish diplomats hatch a plan to spirit the Alfandaris and hundreds of innocents, many of whom are Jewish, to safety. Together, they must traverse a war-torn continent, crossing enemy lines and risking everything in a desperate bid for freedom. From Ankara to Paris, Cairo, and Berlin, Last Train to Istanbul is an uplifting tale of love and adventure from Turkey’s beloved bestselling novelist Ayşe Kulin. Right now it’s $1.57
Take yourself to the catacombs beneath the French capital with Andrew Miller’s Pure
If your idea of Paris is of beauty and fashion, delightful meals and romantic walks along the Seine, then I’m afraid you are in for something different with Andrew Miller’s novel Pure.
It is the 18th century, and the oldest cemetery in Paris is overflowing.
The Holy Innocents’ cemetery may have started out as your average church burial ground, but now it is a nightmare, with hundreds of thousands of bodies having been piled on top of each other for generations. And despite the bones being removed to be put in ‘charniers’, there is still insufficient room for the endless supply of new corpses. The nearby residents have had enough and are complaining that their water is being poisoned by the rotting flesh and the stench has become unbearable, so the authorities decide something has to be done. The bodies must be removed. And this is where our novel begins.
Charniers at the Holy Innocents’ Cemetery in Paris – Image via Wikimedia Commons
A young engineer named Jean-Baptiste is hired by the authorities to remove the corpses, an immensely difficult feat requiring all his skills. But there’s an added challenge beyond the engineering concerns; our young hero has been told he must do the job in secret.
What follows as poor old Jean-Baptiste tries to deal with this grizzly nightmare is fabulous. I relished this book – and if you are someone who enjoyed the novel Perfume, or The Shadow of the Wind, then I think you’ll love this one as well. There are some terrific characters, especially from within the nearby family that Jean-Baptiste lodges with, as well as amongst those who befriend him and try to help him with the project. And fortunately there’s also a little romance for our earnest young engineer.
Of course you have to be up for being a bit grossed out from time to time – there’s no protecting of your sensibilities here. This is a cemetery after all….
From cemetery to city square
But what if you were visiting Paris today and you wanted to see the cemetery for yourself? Well, I have to tell you, there’s not much sign of it these days. It seems Jean-Baptiste did his job very well.
The cemetery is now a small square surrounded by restaurants and fast food outlets, BUT in the middle of the square you can see this fountain.
It is called the Fountain of the Innocents, and it is the oldest monumental fountain in Paris, built around 1550. It was once placed against our cemetery wall – which you can see in this engraving.
Engraving of the Fountain of the Innocents – Image courtesy of Siefkin DR via Wikimedia Commons
When the cemetery closed down, the site was turned into a market square and the fountain was earmarked for destruction. Fortunately, after some community pressure, it was decided to move the fountain into the square, raise it up on a stone pedestal and have a fourth facade constructed so it could be free-standing.
Painting of Fountain of the Innocents 1822. Image courtesy of Musée Carnavalet via Wikimedia Commons
In 1858 it was moved once again to its present location in the middle of the square, where you can visit it today. You will find it, right in the heart of Paris, near to the shopping precinct of Les Hall and the Pompidou cultural complex.
But what happened to all of those bones?
After sitting by the fountain for a while, perhaps with a coffee, reading your copy of Pure you can take a 45 minute walk or a 20 minute ride on public transport to the place where all those bones got moved to; the spectacular, and slightly scary, Paris Catacombs.
Paris Catacombs. Image courtesy of albany_tim via Wikimedia Commons
A labyrinth of tunnels underneath the heart of Paris, the catacombs house the bones of six million Parisians. And the first bones to go in there were the very bones Jean-Baptiste spent hundreds of pages trying to dig up in this novel.
Engraving of the Paris Catacombs from 1855 – Image courtesy of Brown University via Wikimedia Commons
The Catacombes are not for the faint-hearted – and nor is this novel really – but they are truly one of the most memorable tourist attractions you will visit in Paris.
And to really appreciate them, I’d certainly give Pure a read before you go!
“Amid the several million or so souls that inhabit this city, what a happy accident it is, I consider, what an obliterating coincidence that we have found each other. What have I done to deserve this, to be so singled out?” – Seducing Ingrid Bergman p96
I discovered the novel Seducing Ingrid Bergman (which I talk about in the video above) after reading this article about war photographer Robert Capa. The article included the heartbreaking story of how most of the negatives for the photographs Capa took during the D-Day landings at Normandy in 1944 were destroyed before a single print was made, due to a mistake in the London photo lab of Life Magazine. I cannot imagine Capa’s frustration at this after putting his life in danger and witnessing such bloodshed. It makes the few surviving iconic images all the more precious (their appears to be a difference of opinion as to whether there were 10 or 11 of them, depending on where you read about it!)
I wanted to know more about this good looking Hungarian who lived life on the edge, found solace in women and drink and put himself in enormous danger so the world could witness global conflict, only to die after stepping on a land mine in Vietnam at the age of 40.
What a gift then to find a highly-praised novel in which Capa himself is one of the main characters. In Paris for the city’s liberation at the end of World War Two, Capa is at a bit of a loss. What does a war photographer do now that peace has broken out? Capa and his friend, writer Irwin Shaw, find themselves at the Ritz when who should arrive but Ingrid Bergman, the married Swedish-born movie star, who has taken the world by storm with films such as Casablanca and Gaslight.
Capa is smitten immediately and it is not long before he charms his way into Bergman’s affections and the beginning of an intense relationship. It was more than an affair for Bergman, who wanted to marry Capa but…. well, I think I should leave it for you to read the novel to see how it all ended up…you’ll get no spoilers from me!
We see a little of Paris throughout the book, especially as Bergman and Capa take to some famous streets, restaurants and nightclubs for their somewhat clandestine meetings, and it’s great to get a sense of what the city was like during this time of liberation.
“The newspapers are full of the Japanese surrender. V-J Day. People swarm in the streets with renewed fervour, waving flags and handkerchiefs, many clustered around boards where the front pages of the newspapers are displayed. Ingrid is with me on the back of a jeep as I take photographs. We’re driven slowly as part of an improvised victory parade through the wildly celebrating crowds.”– p68
While this is a work of fiction, it is highly researched, and much of it based on autobiographies by both Capa and Bergman. How much of it is “the truth” is always questionable in novels such as this, but it appears to capture enough of the man to help bring his work alive, and if you read it, you will always feel you know a little of the photographer himself whenever you see his images.
This part of Capa’s life is not the only novel in which he features. Susana Fortes’s Waiting for Robert Capa (which I have not yet read) is the story of the complicated relationship between Capa and one of the first female photojournalists to die on the frontline, Gerda Taro. The novel explores their lives and careers as the pair re-invent themselves from young radical Jewish exiles living in Paris by the name of André Friedmann and Gerta Pohorylle to two of the world’s most celebrated war photographers. Changing their names and re-inventing the art of war photography, the two produced some of the most recognised images of the Spanish Civil War. Read more about their relationship here.
There is much more to the Robert Capa story than I have room for here, but if you’d like to know more about his extraordinary life, here are some suggestions.
- Read the novel Seducing Ingrid Bergman
- Read the novel Waiting for Robert Capa
- Read Capa’s memoir Slightly Out of Focus
- Read Bergman’s autobiography My Story
- See the D-Day and other Normandy landing photos online
- Watch this documentary about Capa on YouTube, which includes comments by Bergman’s daughter Isabella Rossellini
- Consider this hefty book which contains more than 900 of his images or head off to the International Center of Photography in New York, a photography school and museum founded by Capa’s brother Cornell, where much of his work is on permanent display.
- Watch the documentary The Mexican Suitcase which tells the amazing story of how three lost boxes of negatives, mainly shot by Capa, Taro and fellow photographer David “Chim” Seymour during the Spanish Civil War were found in a closet in Mexico in 2007. The 4,500 negatives had disappeared from Capa’s Paris studio at the beginning of World War Two.
And as a special treat, there are two films currently in development about Capa and his life – based on our two novels.
It seems that 100 years after his birth, Capa’s work is still having an impact, while his event-filled life continues to fascinate.
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I am delighted to introduce you to a new, regular series here on the Packabook blog which, for lack of a wittier title, I am calling ‘What to Read – What to Do’. Sometimes I just like to tell it how it is!
The idea is that I will take one book, give you a brief description, and then suggest one thing you can do related to the novel. The posts will be fairly short and sweet, but hopefully they will provide you with some great travel ideas. Fiction gives us so many amazing opportunities to explore the world, and each of these posts will reveal one more tiny aspect of that wondrous world that we can investigate for ourselves. Now I appreciate that it is unlikely you will be able to just take off and do these things straight away, but how about keeping a record of the ones which appeal to you? That way when you do manage to make that trip to France for example, you’ll know exactly what to read and what to do when you get there. These posts will be ideal to add to your ‘Bucket List’ or ‘Places to Visit’ boards on Pinterest, so feel free to make good use of the ‘Pin It’ button at the top of the post. (If anyone is not yet on Pinterest and needs an invite, let me know in the comments and I’ll invite you). Now, let’s get started with our premiere edition of…
What to Read – What to Do – France.
“…where lavender rose upon lavender in a hundred shades of mauve, twilight brought a deep, unreal violet to the plateau. One evening in late July, I watched transfixed, as the undulations merged into a mysterious landscape where no boundaries were definable between flower and sky, between falling shadow and the darkening blue.” – The Lantern (p145)
THE BOOK: Deborah Lawrenson’s The Lantern is described as “a mix between a gothic ghost story and a modern romance” and that’s a pretty accurate description of this novel which takes us to the heart of rural France. When Eve falls for the mysterious Dom, she travels with him to live in a run-down old house in the Luberon, in the middle of Provence. But as the darkness of the winter sets in, Eve becomes suspicious of all around her, especially Dom and the secrets he refuses to share. And on top of that – she’s convinced the house is haunted. There are not a lot of surprises in this novel, which Lawrenson says is inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, but if you are looking for an easy read which makes the most of the sights and sounds of the south of France, then this should do it for you. The writer has based the house on her own run-down property in the area, so her descriptions of the buildings and surrounding area are about as accurate as you could get. She even has pictures and descriptions on her website, to really help you visualise it. In fact her website has a load of information related to the region in which it’s set, so certainly worth a visit before setting off.
WHAT TO DO: One of the key elements of the novel is lavender. This part of Provence is famous for its lavender fields and production – both small and large scale, and if you are looking for some stunning scenery then you will be sure to find it here. You can follow one of the ‘routes de la Lavande’, either by car, foot or bicycle, and visit many of the villages mentioned in the novel, immersing yourself in all the sights and smells. Or for something really special you could witness the lavender fields from the air – in a hot air balloon. While Lawrenson doesn’t tell you exactly where her big old house is located, at one stage she mentions it is in walking distance of Apt, so if you make it to this walled city, you’ll know you are in the heart of the novel. Villages such as Roussillon, Gordes and Bonnieux all get detailed mentions, and you will pass through them yourself as you seek out the area’s lavender trails. A quick look on the internet shows a number of organised tour operators to help you make the most of the region and others suggest itineraries you can follow yourself. To help you put it all into perspective it may also be worth dropping into the Lavender Museum in Coustellet. And while the large scale commercial farms near Sault are impressive, Lawrenson also encourages you to visit one of the smaller distilleries, which will give you a better idea of some of the more traditional production methods mentioned in the novel.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND: The lavender fields are in bloom between June and August, and the distilleries are open in July and August, so bear this in mind when arranging your trip. For an absolute highlight, you might want to make sure you are there in mid-July when Apt holds its Lavender Festival.
VIDEO TO WATCH: Hear Deborah Lawrenson speak about the book and some reviewer thoughts in this video.
Blog post and pictures from Deborah Lawrenson as she visits Sault – “Shops entirely devoted to lavender and sunshine”
Traveler Phoebe Lowe explores the lavender region around Sault and Apt in her blog – “It was crazily beautiful!! Sooooooo nice!!”
Visit2province.com – for lots of information on the lavender fields
The Luberon – a good general site with some stunning photographs
BOOK SOURCE: A review copy of The Lantern was kindly provided by the publisher.
If you have enjoyed this post, then you are sure to enjoy my free online bookclub, in which we are taking a fiction adventure around the world. Read more about it here.