Tuesday 1 April 2014

Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb

I can't believe I've let this gem of a book languish on my TBR pile for two years.

Parisians is a wonderfully rich, engaging, engrossing stroll through the lesser known stories that populate the history of Paris.

I say stroll deliberately.
Robb has chosen stories that highlight the streets and buildings of Paris.

We see a young Napoleon visiting Paris on family business, strolling around the Palais-Royal and losing his virginity.

We see Charles-Axel Guillaumot and his work (obsession) with the Catacombs - the map of under Paris was more complete & accurate than the one above ground at that time!

We see Marie-Antoinette wandering around lost, trying to find the rendezvous point for their infamous near-escape from Paris.

We see the real life story behind Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo.

And we see Madame Zola view Paris from atop the brand new Eiffel Tower & learn of her husband's affair.

Each story is a snapshot. A fleshed out, personal glimpse into one small section of a life, a street, a house, a quartier. Robb's storytelling abilities brings each vignette to life - full of the complexities, uncertainties & messiness of real life.

The only problem I have with the book is the double page map at the beginning - it's too small to read the names of the streets and building properly! (And I have the original HB from 2010, not the smaller PB that came out later).

I like to know which area of Paris each chapter is set in. I want my fingers to stroll down the streets and around the buildings along with all the people who populate this book.

I started this book a few days ago in anticipation.

I have been counting down to Zoladdiction hosted by Fanda @Classiclit!

I was very tempted to start one of my books, but decided to do some 'setting the scene' reading instead.

When I discovered that one of the chapters in Parisians was 'Madame Zola', I knew I had found the book to tide me over and get me in the mood.

My knowledge & understanding of Zola is limited to the few introductory bio's in the the few Zola books I have on hand.

I know that he was born April 2, 1840 & given the moniker Émile Édouard Charles Antoine Zola! I know that he wrote the Rougon-Macquart series of books as well as the famous J'accuse letter in defence of Alfred Dreyfus.

He married Alexandrine, but had an affair and 2 children with Jeanne. In one bio I read I was informed that Alexandrine forgave him his indiscretions and helped to raise the 2 children.

Which made the final paragraph of Parisians: Madame Zola even more interesting.

Robb finished this chapter with an excerpt of a letter from Alexandrine to Jeanne after Émile's death...

The demonstrations of homage to our dear great hero were truly magnificent. The future bodes well for the father of our dear children. One day, they will want to find out all they can about the labours to which he devoted his life before it was cut short. I hope they will understand that by the manner in which they comport themselves they will help to preserve the glory of the name Zola. You will be there to direct them and to teach them many things - unfortunately far fewer than I might have taught them, for you did not know him as well as I, who lived at his side for thirty-eight years. 
His violent death has struck us both a cruel blow, and in our suffering, the affection of his children has been a great happiness to me. I feel as though their affection comes from him, and this makes me cherish them even more than I would have thought possible.

Ouch! That bitch-slap still reverberates 112 years later!

On that note...which Zola to get stuck into?

I have pb copies of Nana, The Ladies' Delight (Au Bonheur des Dames) and The Dream. I also have Germinal on my epad partially read (I dislike reading the screen which is the only reason I haven't finished it.

Any suggestions?
Parisians also counts as a book from my TBR pile, Around the World & Books on France Reading Challenges.


  1. This has been on my TBR for years too! I feel inspired now!

  2. Oww....I love everything about Paris (long before I like Zola!). I think I should read this!

    1. I think you should too!
      The chapters are a nice length & each story is self-contained.

  3. The only problem wit a book like this is that I would then think about nothing else except going to Paris as soon as possible! This sounds like a book I would greatly enjoy (apart from that).

    1. Problem?
      I don't see that as a problem Vicki ;-)
      I'm putting out very strong vibes to my family about my 50th birthday bash and Paris!
      Half the fun is the anticipation and the planning.

  4. You should check out this reading list: 40 Books That Will Make You Want to Visit France:

    ~ Ruth @ A Great Book Study

    1. Thanks - I'm meant to be getting on top of my TBR pile not adding to it!!!

    2. Oh what a magnificent list! I've shamefully only read a few, but have meant to read many more. I'll keep track of this list, there's some fantastic suggestions.

  5. This history of Paris, this sounds wonderful!

    1. This is!
      But you should be focusing on all things Aussie at the moment Melissa :-)

  6. Hi!

    I'm nearly drooling right now. This sounds just like the kind of books I like to read.

    Wow, wow, Madame Zola! It certainly takes guts to write such a letter, I think I like her already, hehe.

    Lovely review :-D.

    1. I love Madame Zola too - gracious but firmly keeping the mistress in her place!

  7. That sounds really interesting. I love Paris. I have put "Parisians" on my wishlist right away. Thank you so much for suggesting it.

    Marianne from Let's Read

    1. Some of the chapters were more captivating than others, but I think it comes down to personal interests. I connected to some of the stories more due to previous knowledge, experience or obsession with a particular person, period in Parisian history or book.
      The ones I knew less about were a little harder to get into as I felt there were in-jokes that I didn't get!

  8. Brona you won't be surprised to know that this lingers in my TBR, in fact as I was going through my French shelf the other day to find a book to lend to a friend, I saw it and wondered again when I would get to read it. I don't remember anyone else reading it, so I'm glad to know that you loved it- it will sit there waiting for me. I'm reading David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris at the moment, so Paris is never far away from my thoughts.

    1. I love that you have a dedicated French shelf Louise - somehow all seems right with the world now that I know that :-)

      I may have to spend some time today re-organising my shelves by region too. (I was always strictly alphabetical, but a few years ago I changed to genre in an effort to fit all the books in better. But I tend to read by theme (or obsession as Mr Books prefers to think of it!!) and I'm definitely in the middle of a French phase again.)

    2. A French shelf is lovely, mine is somewhat overflowing actually. I think I need a bigger French shelf, or a second one. Most of my books are higgledy piggledy, but I group my particular interest books- France, Soup and my 1001.


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