This is the Paris you never knew. From the Revolution to the present, Graham Robb has distilled a series of astonishing true narratives, all stranger than fiction.
A young artillery lieutenant, strolling through the Palais-Royal, observes disapprovingly the courtesans plying their trade. A particular woman catches his eye; nature takes its course. Later that night, Napoleon Bonaparte writes a meticulous account of his first sexual encounter.
An aristocratic woman, fleeing the Louvre, takes a wrong turn and loses her way in the nameless streets of the Left Bank. For want of a map - there were no reliable ones at the time - Marie-Antoinette will go to the guillotine.
Baudelaire, Baron Haussmann, the real-life Mimi of La Boheme, Proust, Charles de Gaulle (who is suspected of having faked an assassination attempt on himself in Notre Dame) - these and many more make up Robb's cast of characters. The result is a resonant, intimate history with the power of a great novel.
Simon Vance does Paris, in an outstanding narrative performance of one of the most unusual and unconventional history books ever propped before a studio microphone. Graham Robb’s Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris, is also a work of genius.
“The adventures that follow were written as a history of Paris recounted by many different voices,” writes Robb. “The idea was to create a kind of mini-Human Comedy of Paris, in which the history of the city would be illuminated by the real experiences of its inhabitants.” The 19 stories chosen by Robb span the period before the French Revolution to the Clichy-sous-Bois riots of 2005. In contrast to Balzac’s monumental and sprawling 100 stories and novels of The Human Comedy, Robb’s Parisians is a meticulously researched, intricately detailed nonfictional work of art, a historical novel of a unique type, a dazzlingly kinetic masterpiece of adventure revealing an intriguingly human history of the City of Light.
Vance brings to Parisians a dynamic mastery of narrative expression, perfect timing, and his great set of narrative techniques that often go unnoticed. But perhaps that’s the point. Some narrators are more vocally demonstrative than others. Vance’s voice is expressive in quite subtle ways. His Parisians narration is a journeyman performance similar to the stone masons that applied their talents and skills to the construction of Notre Dame. Vance shapes the finely wrought architecture of Robb’s extraordinarily constructed collection of stories. Parisians the audiobook would not have enriched the print book’s exacting aesthetics without Vance.
Robb is a remarkably acute artist. He unfolds a good number of the Parisians stories as if by stealth. At the beginning of the chapter “Lost”, a woman is referred to only as ‘she’, and it is only gradually that we learn who she is and what the consequences will be of her getting lost. Some things about some of the storylines are revealed only at the end. In “One Night at The Palais-Royal” an 18-year-old artillery lieutenant has his first sexual experience with a woman and later writes about it. After he pens his experience we learn who this lieutenant is. Robb compares and contrasts over the book’s periods of time. There are assassination attempts on a French President and a President-to-be. Are the attempts real or fake? Charles de Gaulle is covered with fragments of mortar from an unknown enemy after World War II. Marcel Proust is showered with fragments of metal in a German bombing of Paris during World War I. Who is the braver, Proust or de Gaulle? Who is histrionic and who coolly indifferent? And who is one of the more fascinating individuals in Parisians?
I don’t want to give away anything more reviewers of the print edition of Parisians have spilt the beans. Don’t pick them up. This is a great audiobook. Listen before any further third party descriptions mare your experience. David Chasey
“With his profound knowledge of Paris, its treasures and squalor, its heroes and victims, Robb reveals a city of not only lights but darkness.” (Publishers Weekly)
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Difficult....but worth it
- Myrna Minkoff
This audiobook is so good!