Hester's Reviews > Paris Requiem

Paris Requiem by Lisa Appignanesi
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's review
Apr 25, 12

bookshelves: mystery, paris, psychology, women-s-issues, history

During finals time, my undergraduate neighbor stopped by to have tea and to share her frustration with one of her term papers for art history. She was supposed to write on milliners as erotic subjects in belle epoque painting and could not find any sources. I remembered that years ago, I had read a novel that had described the odd sexual climate in Paris at the turn of the century. A quarter of the women in Paris had at some point engaged in casual prostitution and the authorities were so worried about venereal disease that a law had been passed allowing to police to detain any woman on the street and require she be inspected. Many of these women ended up in the Hopital Saltpetriere, where my great grandmother later worked as a psychiatrist, until the Dreyfus affair convinced her that New York was a better place for her.
This mystery takes the protagonist into Paris' heartbreaking past as he tries to discover what happened to his brother's dead fiance. I found myself transfixed by the psychological drama, absurdly grateful that I did not have to live in those times. James' research into Olympe's life shows us what life was like for Jews as well as for women. The tale may have stayed with me because of how it related to my own family's history, but I remembered enough of the novel's background that I could steer my neighbor towards the resources she needed to write her paper. She passed with flying colors.
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