Wiser (The Crazy Years, 1985, etc.) captures the hustle and bustle of 1930s Paris through a quick catalogue of famous names and striking anecdotes.
In this compendium of the famous lives of pre-WWII Paris, all of the notable personalities make their obligatory appearance: Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dalí, Coco Chanel, Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Josephine Baker, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, T.S. Eliot, Jean Cocteau, André Breton, Wallis Warfield Simpson, Katherine Anne Porter, and countless others weave in and out of the pages, meeting up with one another for love, sex, hate, scandal, and intrigue. Balancing out these most luminous of the luminaries, the author includes many of the lesser-known personalities, including Sylvia Beach (proprietor of the bookstore Shakespeare and Company), Vander Clyde (Texas cowboy cum female impersonator), and Brassaï (the Transylvanian photographer Gyula Haldász). The length of this litany of names (which is by no means exhaustive) underscores just how much Wiser bites off, but fortunately his jaws are up to the task of chewing it into digestible bits. Delightful stories (such as the tepid meeting between Hemingway and Porter), and amusing character sketches (as when Dalí declares, “I swear to you that I am not coprophagic”) keep the narrative moving in entertaining and unexpected ways—as do lesser-known incidents detailed in such eye-raising chapters as “Un Beau Crime, S.V.P.” and “A Pawnshop Scam That Rocked the Nation.” Although delightful reading, this is not a scholarly account of these years; in fact, Wiser admits to having “applied my imagination to scenes that would otherwise go unrecorded.”
If Paris is a moveable feast, Wiser provides the menu for its wonder years before the darkness of its WWII fall.