Jeff Glovsky's Reviews > The Paris Architect

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure
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did not like it
Read 2 times. Last read March 29, 2018 to April 1, 2018.

I started out really liking this book. Really wanted to like it. A novel about an architect, in one of the world's most beautiful cities, torn between fidelity to his nation and need-driven professional collaboration with the enemy, set during World War II... What could go wrong?

At first, the quaint, time-capsule setting and 'life during wartime' talk of rations, betrayal, cowardice, Third Reich/Vichy, Resistance and Occupation commanded attention. An unlikely friendship between Lucien (Paris architect of the title) and an occupying German officer, paid off well... And depictions of Gestapo torture, though jarring, seemed apt for the time (I initially thought)... They certainly kept things moving at a speedy pace.

At first.

The more I sped through the 364-page book, though, the more 'off' and out of place some of these depictions, and especially, the book's unfortunate dialogue, began to feel.

Things bogged down considerably when modern (not particularly de la mode) terms like "dumb-ass", "motherf-er", "not too shabby" and "Move your asses!" began appearing; and the simplistic writing style overall began to morph from vaguely charming, perhaps "French" in construction, to really sort of bad.

A few of the more wince-making examples:
"He loved and needed the boy with all his heart and couldn't bear to part with him. He didn't want to do it."

"'Did you fall in to the pot and drown?' Alain yelled.
He heard Pierre flush the toilet and unlatch the door."

"'Marie, you old wench. I'm going to buy you the finest Parisian dress to stuff that fine ass of yours in'... "

"Get to it, mister, or you won't be seeing the Marienplatz anytime soon. That is in Munich, isn't it?"

"He unbuckled Laval's belt and opened his zipper to extract the old man's penis... 'It reminds me of a shriveled prune', said Voss."

Which brings things back to Gestapo torture.

Whether applying soldering irons to appendages, or snipping appendages off with wire cutters, the relentless scenes of unnecessary roughness stand out in as jarring and unpleasant a way as the anachronistic, embarrassing writing.

Throughout the novel, there are comparatively innocuous, deeply nuanced scenes: Dissatisfaction within a crumbling marriage... A beautiful woman's reflections on her "ugly as a bulldog" (!) sister...

These and other detailed scenarios -- including the unexpected creation of a family unit to work and live for, love and protect -- would seem to be textbook cases of 'art imitating life': The author, Charles Belfoure , as an architect first and a writer second, would certainly infuse his storytelling with 'write what you know' flourishes...

But in my mind, in light of what felt to become more and more gratuitous brutality as the book went on, and some nasty ignorance ascribed to certain characters -

"So what were you muttering in the bathroom? Sounded like Chinese or something" ... "Sounded like you were talking to yourself in gibberish. What language was that, boy?"

... one can't help but wonder how 'true to life' the author's own anti-Semitism -- or at least, detachment from an actual Jewish perpective -- might be?

To open a new chapter with a quote like, "But didn't the Jews kill Christ, Father?", as a Gestapo officer tortures a priest - is not only arguably poor composition. It's also unnatural-sounding dialogue, and to me, begs the question:

Were Charles Belfoure actually Jewish (I can't know, but assume he is not), how much better might The Paris Architect have been?

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
March 29, 2018 – Started Reading
March 29, 2018 – Shelved
April 1, 2018 – Finished Reading

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