Memoir of a Paris Neighborhood
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A brief and impressionistic memoir that ultimately disappoints. Considering the momentous events swirling in and around the Marais district of Paris, this proves to be a surprisingly lifeless history. Karmel is the author of two previous works on the French Revolution (My Revolution, 1970; Guillotine in the Wings, 1972), and has lived in Paris for the past seven years. The book begins with a charming episode from the author’s youth: his first visit to, departure from, and return to the City of Lights. No one who has ever been to Paris can fail to empathize here; common memories will unite reader and author. But the promising beginning fades into a mere chronicle, rather than lived history. Even the recounting of a terrorist attack on the very same day as he and his wife move into an apartment is told in dry, unemotional tones that miss the obvious opportunity for dramatic evocation. In the author’s defense, he has claimed to have written neither a guidebook (although it is fairly good as one) nor a complete history. Instead, this is purely a microhistory. Karmel tells the tale of a particular house and district in intimate detail, using both as prisms to illuminate the larger canvas of Parisian and French history. The reader, though, may soon grow impatient with the minutiae of house contracts, legal deeds, and minor restorations. Notwithstanding revolutions, fires, and incompetent administrators, a house built in the 13th century leaves an extraordinary paper trail, all too diligently examined by the author. In the end, one feels curiously detached, though still pining for a home of one’s own just about anywhere in Paris. (43 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 1-56792-074-8
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Godine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1998