mercredi 29 avril 2009

It’s funny how Renee L. and I were reading similar books. She just finished reading Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (see her review here) and I just finished Pictures at an Exhibition by Sara Houghteling. Both books deal with that black period in recent French history—the Occupation during the Second World War. I’m not a refugee from that period as Renee is but I do share her desire to understand what is not understandable.
Pictures from an Exhibtion is the story of the Berenzon family. The father Daniel is a prodigious collector of art and thanks to his genius in handling artists, some of the era’s greatest works graced the walls of their famous Gallery. Their family was friends with the Camondo family themselves great patrons of art. But while Daniel drills into Max, his only son, knowledge of their great collection, Max is nonetheless unfathomably forbidden to enter into the family business. Instead his father hires Rose Clement a beautiful and brilliant gallery assistant to work with him. Max inevitably falls in love with Rose. Unfortunately for all of them Paris falls into Nazi hands and the family is forced to flee for their lives. When they come back in 1945 their wondrous collection has disappeared. What follows next is Max’ quest to recover the family’s collection.

There is no doubting the horrors that were unleashed during this dark period of history. There is no shortage of documents detailing all the pain, suffering and misery endured by people. Less documented however is the pillage and looting that accompanied this particular war. Make no mistake about it, there was as much pillage and looting carried out during this period as there was during those days of colonial conquest and rule. What was the object of this looting? Art from the greatest collectors of those times, which happened to also be the most persecuted people. This book does a great job retelling the story of this war from the perspective of a citizenry robbed of everything including his art. And a city without its art is one that has lost its soul.

I walked among the paintings that had not been shipped—Masson, Miro, Picabia, Valadon, Max Ernst, Leger, Picasso, Kisling, La Fresnaye and Klee. On May 26m, they disappeared. On May 27, I arrived at work almost at dawn, and already a column of smoke greeted me above the terrace of the Tuileries. By sunset, the fire still burned, fueled by the five or ten thousand paintings that our occupiers considered so dangerous.”

“On Bastille Day of 1944, Alfred Rosenberg’s organization, the ERR issued an internal report of European confiscations. ….22,004 works of art in all categorized as
10,890 paintings, watercolors and drawings,684 miniatures, paintings on glass and enamel, books and manuscripts, 2,477 furniture pieces of acknowledged historical value, 583 textiles, 5,825 objects d’art,….

And while the occupiers made off with much of the art, this book doesn’t spare the French art dealers who had made profit from dealings with the Germans and who later tried to sell back furniture and other objects to the same people who owned them before the war.

But just as every story has its villain, there must also be a hero. In this case, it’s a brave heroine. Rose Clement was modeled after real life Rose Valland, who remained at the Louvre and kept meticulous records of paintings that later enabled the government to recover some of the lost art. It’s just a shame that her character wasn’t as well-fleshed out as it could’ve been.
One passage I really liked is one where Rose is in the middle of the Louvre overseeing the removal of artwork for safer destinations.

The Louvre’s galleries all led, like spokes to the center of a wheel to the Winged Victory of Samothrace. We had arrived there, on the museum’s first floor, looking up to the score of steps that led to its third, over which a wooden ramp had been constructed. Scaffolding sufficient for a house surrounded Winged Victory. The famous bosom was covered by a heavy piece of leather and encircled with rope. A second box of slatted wood was built around the statue, this one with wheels at its corners. The wings of solid marble still looked ready to take flight. A noose cinched where the head been a thousand years before.

As with Sarah’s Key, Pictures at an Exhibition shines an illuminating light on a very dark period of our past. It’s a portrait of man, made cruel by great greed and common venality. It’s a continuing lesson to all of us not to go down that path again.

lundi 27 avril 2009

Folks, its almost the end of April and we have all these long weekends in May coming up! To be sure to get your book fix, make sure to stop by at RWB for all our new titles ...

Fiction Hardcover
1. The House of Bilquis by Azhar Abidi
2. Water Ghosts by Shawna Young Ryan
3. Pictures at an Exhibition by Sara Houghteling
4. The Silver Blade by Sally Gardner

Fiction Trade and Paperback
1. The Air We Breathe by Andrea Barrett
2. All the Sad Young Literary Men by Keith Gessen
3. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
4. Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell
5. The Butt by Will Self
6. Man in the Dark by Paul Auster
7. Yesterday's Weather by Anne Enright
8. Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo
9. Tales of Freedom by Ben Okri
10. The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt
11. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows
12. The Road from Damascus by Robin Yassin Kassab
13. The Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji
14. Winner Stands Alone by Paulo Coelho
15. Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones
16. When will there be good news by Kate Atkinson
17. The Lazarus Project by Aleksander Hemon

And for our younger readers...

1. The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart
2. Just Henry by Michele Magorian
3. Diary of the Wimpy Kid The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney
4. Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen
5. The Ant Colony by Jenny Valentine
6. Prom Nights from Hell with stories by Meg Cabot, Stephenie Meyer and Kim Harrison

mercredi 22 avril 2009

Spending the day out and about in the park

We love our corner of the Marais but sometimes its good to go out of the neighborhood. Today, we did exactly that because of our participation at the current festival at the Jardin d'Acclimatation. The theme? Americans in Paris. And America it was! Or at least an America composed of ideas that people generally have when they think of America.
Its main street USA with the big yellow school bus...
Las Vegas with the Harley (though I'm afraid you can't see it from this photo but trust me it was there) and Hot dogs and cupcakes...
Of course, books in English brought by the RWB.....

Some of the books we had...

A selection of books for everyone, kids and grown-ups!
This stand was (and will probably continue to be) the most looked at, most visited booth in the whole park! Its the stand with 10, yes 10 free X-Box stations!

There was even music and shows all day long. Its safe to say that everyone at the park today had fun! The RWB will be there again next Wed (the 29th of April) and the 6h of May. Hope to see you there!

mardi 21 avril 2009

Peeling back the layers of the familiar

There is no shortage of guidebooks written about Paris; this city of ours being one of the most visited in the world. Not to mention one of the most beautiful. Clearly, one of the most unique guide book I've ever had the pleasure of reading is Leonard Pitt's Walks Through Lost Paris. Its a relatively new book (published in 2006) and its simply fascinating. It details the author's exhaustive research into the way the city was rebuilt, in some cases from the ground up, during Napoleon III's reign. The fruit of his research is this book filled with pictures of the city before and after the massive works. In this case, these pictures are worth thousands of words as they manage to show modern readers the city that once was. It's really fascinating to see through the author's eyes. The other day, I walked down Rue St. Antoine, trying to picture in my mind the Hotel de Sully as it must have been and I realized that the facade is currently under renovation. I wonder if the city is restoring it to how it was before. Would it then resemble the Hotel de Sully in the book? Now everytime I walk around, I can't help but see bits and pieces of the unfamiliar medieval Paris. I wish I could share with you some of the great pictures that are in this book. But I guess you'll just have to come in and see the book I'm raving about!

mardi 14 avril 2009

Out and about we are...

This month, RWB is stepping out once more out of its neighborhood. Starting this Wednesday and for the three consecutive ones (the 22nd, 29th of April and the 6th of May) we will be at the Jardin D'Acclimatation for the ongoing Americans in Paris festival. If you've never been to the Jardin before, now is a good time to join RWB there. There is an impressive line-up of activities that is sure to please everyone out there, including a parade, concerts, basketball and baseball matches and many many more. Please consult their complete program at ....

And on the 30th of April, RWB will once again be at the Sorbonne! This time for Graham Swift's talk on his newest book "Making an Elephant, Writing From Within" as well as other writings. Write down these details:

Graham Swift at
Paris IV Sorbonne Salle des Actes
1 rue Victor Cousin, 75005 Paris
30 April 2009 5:30 Pm
Free entrance
For more information, please don't hesitate to consult:

Hope to see everyone either at the Jardin or at the Sorbonne!

mardi 7 avril 2009

An impressive woman

Lord Byron once famously declared "that lobster salad and champagne were the only things a woman should ever be seen eating." If this were to be true, then French women would have a headstart given the importance of champagne in french life. Beyond the confines of France, champagne has come to symbolize high glamor and the good life. Its the drink of choice whenever there is a reason to celebrate. Undoubtedly, one of the most recognizable among the champagne houses is the Veuve Clicquot with its distinctive orange label. But as pointed out by author Tilar Mazzeo, hardly anything is known about the person behind the wine. And so she began a search for this elusive woman whose skill, acumen and audacity helped change and redefine the champagne industry.
Thanks to Mazzeo’s laudable efforts, we now have a book devoted to the story of The Widow Clicquot. As the author finds out in the course of her long research, very little material is actually available on Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin. There are only the barest details on her birth, marriage and subsequent widowhood. What the author has done, and in an excellent manner I might add, is to weave these details into a coherent and fascinating story that gives a good idea of the person. We learn for instance that Barbe-Nicole was widowed at a very young age and that rather than give up their shared dream, she chose to pursue the business. And under very perilous conditions. Interwoven into the Widow’s story is the dramatic and often turbulent history of France during the years of the 19th century. It is a tribute to the author’s skills that parts of the book read like a gripping thriller. For example while reading how the Widow conspired to be the first to ship her precious wines into Russia before the actual restoration of international trade at the end of the Napoleonic wars, I actually felt my tension mounting.

Apart from the story of the widow herself, this book is a great mine of information about the wine industry and how champagne itself has evolved. The champagne taste we know and love is actually very different from its original taste. Imagine it 10 to 15 times sweeter, served icy cold and you get an idea of what it used to be. But what is even more unimaginable is the fact that in the beginning, champagne bubbles that are its hallmark now were thought to be disgusting. In fact, wine makers tried very hard to get rid of it. And as for the tale that Dom Perignon was the inventor of the bubbly, it’s a myth. Hard as it is to believe, the British were the first ones to discover champagne.

At the end, I found myself deeply impressed by Barbe-Nicole and her incredible story. And while, centuries separate us, her words continue to resonate with as much, if not more, truth now.
“The world is in perpetual motion, and we must invent the things of tomorrow. One must go before others, be determined and exacting, and let your intelligence direct your life. Act with audacity.”

lundi 6 avril 2009

Some great reviews

Last month, RWB was at the book launch of the first volume of Samuel Beckett's Letters at the Irish Cultural Center in Paris. It was a well attended affair led by Professor Dan Gunn who also co-edited the book. The book has had some amazing reviews, one of which was written by Joseph O'Neill, whose last book Netherland was shortlisted in the 2008 Booker Prize. You can read the text of the review by clicking on the link below....

In other news, we literally jumped for joy when we opened the box contained the newest book from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie!

Here's a great review of the book from Telegraph....

And finally, I'm not so familiar with Wells Towers but his new book "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned" has had some excellent reviews . You can read two reviews by clicking below...

All three books are available at RWB!

A mystery writer unmasked

One of RWB's consistent best seller is the Victor Legris series written by Claude Izner. No sooner do we lay them out in our French fiction table do they get snapped up by our readers, eager to read the next adventure. They are mystery novels set in the late 19th century in different parts of Paris. The 4th and latest novel translated from the French is The Marais Assasin. I don't know if its a well known fact already but Claude Izner is actually the nom de plume of the two sisters who co-write these hugely successful books. They are boquinistes by trade. Last Thursday, we had a pleasant surprise when one half of the duo stopped by at RWB. Laurence Lefevre is a quiet unassuming looking woman and it was a real pleasure to meet with at least one of those responsible for Victor Legris. In fact English audiences have a way to go because while the latest one we have is the fth, the series is actually well on its 8th book and the sisters are currently working on the 9th! We are looking forward to more books from Claude Izner!