As I considered what reading material to bring along prior to my recent trip, I reflected on books I had read in the past which related to Paris. The first title that came to mind was Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, which has been a favorite for more than twenty years. The romanticism of that era (the 1920s) never fails to grab me and I was really happy to have reread that particular book just last year.
On a related note, The Paris Wife tells the same tale that Hemingway shares albeit from the perspective of his first wife, Hadley. The feminine point of view, expressed in a historical fiction narrative, is heartbreakingly enlightening and well worth reading.
Going way back in years, the Jim Morrison biography, No One Here Gets Out Alive, provided the perfect inspiration for a visit to the cemetery where Mr. Mojo is spending his eternity. The fulfillment of a teenage promise to myself was well realized on Easter morning as my son and I tramped around the beautiful Cimetière du Père Lachaise, map in hand, searching for the Lizard King.
For this trip, however, I wanted something I had not yet read. Doing a quick keyword search in the library catalog (using Paris and fiction) I came up with a number of options including Cathy Marie Buchanan’s The Painted Girls. Published in 2013, this historical fiction novel was the perfect choice for my trip and I really enjoyed the author’s blend of fact and fiction.
Set in the later part of the 19th century, this story tells the tale of three impoverished sisters living with their widowed mother, a neglectful absinthe addict. With limited prospects, the eldest daughter, an outspoken and fierce protector of her younger siblings, attempts to keep her family together through any means possible. She becomes involved with Emile, a young man recognized by all others but herself as a thug. The middle daughter, a hardworking and literate 14 year-old, pursues an opportunity to dance in the Paris Opera where she catches the eye of Edgar Degas who hires her to pose for him in his studio. The youngest daughter, who possesses a true calling to dance, eventually achieves success in the dance world, but her path has been paved by the efforts and exertions of both of her sisters providing her with the least difficult life of the three.
All of the characters are based upon real people and the author has cleverly woven together two different stories into one rich tapestry of life in Paris during the 1870s. Buchanan paints a rich picture of poverty, society, justice and family and I completely enjoyed this novel. C’est bon!