Lisa (Harmonybites)'s Reviews > A Tale of the Wind: A Novel of 19Th-Century France

A Tale of the Wind by Kay Nolte Smith
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's review
Jul 04, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction, libertarian, romance, fiction, novels
Recommended for: Lovers of Historical Fiction
read count: 2

I last read this when it first came out in hardcover about 20 years ago--and reading it again, I find I still love it. Set in nineteenth century Paris, the novel follows three generations of women, Jeanne, a ragpicker's daughter, her daughter Gabrielle and her daughter Simone. Each is drawn into the life and art of Paris and Smith skillfully weaves in the politics, art and social mores of the day and how they intertwined. The book impressed upon me how turbulent was this period from 1827 to 1885 with France continually bouncing back and forth between a republic and monarchy. It's also a story about the importance of living authentically and the power of family--especially the ones we make beyond those of mere blood.

Yes, I can see problems. I think the biggest is a particular stylistic tic of Smith's. There doesn't seem to be a metaphor or simile she didn't like. So many are tacked on, after descriptions:

She had dozens of frocks–especially yellow and pink, in which her mother loved to dress her, all lavishly trimmed, so that as she ran about the house and the garden, she was like a flower shaking petals of ribbons and lace.

I simply opened the book at random and jotted down the first instance--it's a frequent habit, and reminds me of the wisdom of the "RUE" principle in writing--"Resist the Urge to Explain" that admonishes against overwriting. I do think Smith is often guilty of that.

So why do I rate this book so highly? Partly because I do love books that like this one can take me to a time and place not my own and make me feel I got to know it better. But what makes the novel special to me are the characters, who Smith made me care about greatly. Particularly Nandou. He's the man with the voice, the talent and intellect that should have let him play great dramatic roles--but he's trapped in the body of a dwarf. He's the one that changes Jeanne's fate, when he takes her off the streets and brings her into his life when she's a young girl. He's one of those characters I rather love--with unexpected facets and flaws and handicaps but endearing and larger than life.

Kay Nolte Smith's writing career was a short one--only about ten years before she died of cancer and she had only seven novels to her credit. I don't think any are still in print, which I think a shame. I loved best her two last novels, both works of historical fiction, this one, A Tale of the Wind and Venetian Song set in Renaissance Venice. Both have a permanent place on my bookshelves for good reason.
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