Amid Baron Haussmann’s demolition of her quartier, a woman refuses to leave her home in de Rosnay’s latest (Sarah’s Key, 2008, etc.).
During the reign of Napoleon III, his prefect Baron Haussmann embarked on a mammoth undertaking to modernize Paris. In order to construct the branching boulevard system Paris is now renowned for, entire neighborhoods of twisting cobbled alleyways and lanes were razed. The residents of these now-forgotten neighborhoods were displaced. For the aging widow Rose Bazelet, who has lived for decades in her well-appointed home on rue Childebert near the Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, starting over somewhere else is out of the question. Rose’s house, in addition to being her refuge from her difficult childhood with an unloving mother, has been the repository of her great loves and most significant memories: Her beloved mother-in-law died there, her husband Armand grew senile and died there, her children (her own unloved daughter Violette and favored son Baptiste, claimed by cholera at age 10) were born there. When the citizens of rue Childebert are first notified of the impending “expropriation” of their street, they assume their proximity to the Church will save them, but it is not to be. The restaurateur, hotelier, chocolatier, bookshop owner and other local merchants, including the florist, Rose’s dearest friend Alexandrine, all vacate. Once peaceful, rue Childebert is now a wasteland of dust, falling rubble and clamorous demolition crews. Only Rose remains. Her belongings have been sent to Violette’s home in the country, but Rose has no intention of moving. Subsisting on the scavenged leavings brought to her by Gilbert, a clochard she once aided, she writes an extended letter to Armand, reflecting on her life, and attempting to parse her own motivations. All tends toward the revelation of a secret she has confessed to no one. De Rosnay’s delicacy and the flavor of her beloved Paris are everywhere in this brief but memorable book.
Replete with treats, particularly for Paris-lovers—indeed for anyone wedded to a special place.