Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Review: The Paris Bookseller

Title: The Paris Bookseller

Author: Kerri Maher

Publisher: 25th January 2022 by Hachette Australia 

Pages: 306 pages

How I Read It: ARC book

Genre: historical fiction, culture France

My Rating: 5 cups


Discover the dramatic story of how a humble bookseller fought against incredible odds to bring one of the most important books of the 20th century to the world in this new novel from the author of The Girl in the White Gloves.

When bookish young American Sylvia Beach opens Shakespeare and Company on a quiet street in Paris in 1919, she has no idea that she and her new bookstore will change the course of literature itself.

Shakespeare and Company is more than a bookstore and lending library: Many of the most prominent writers of the Lost Generation, like Ernest Hemingway, consider it a second home. It's where some of the most important literary friendships of the twentieth century are forged--none more so than the one between Irish writer James Joyce and Sylvia herself. When Joyce's controversial novel Ulysses is banned, Beach takes a massive risk and publishes it under the auspices of Shakespeare and Company.

But the success and notoriety of publishing the most infamous and influential book of the century comes with steep costs. The future of her beloved store itself is threatened when Ulysses' success brings other publishers to woo Joyce away. Her most cherished relationships are put to the test as Paris is plunged deeper into the Depression and many expatriate friends return to America. As she faces painful personal and financial crises, Sylvia--a woman who has made it her mission to honor the life-changing impact of books--must decide what Shakespeare and Company truly means to her.

My Thoughts

‘… a life for and among books was not just possible but worthy.’

What an incredible read! This is everything I love about historical fiction - while fictionalised, it contains so many facts and details and when it involves Paris and a bookstore it becomes a sure-fire winner. The Paris Bookseller grew and grew on me until the Author’s Note at the very end had me completely enraptured. 

This fictionalised biographical tale is of Sylvia Beach, of whom I knew nothing about (historical fiction for the win again!) She set up an English bookstore in Paris, ‘Shakespeare and Company’ at the end of WWI.  This would go on to become a gathering place for famous literary heroes of the twenty-first century! Let yourself be transported back to Paris of the 1920s and sit around discussing the world with the likes of Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others.

There is such depth and stunning detail on a variety of issues and themes all handled so deftly by the pen of Kerri. At its heart is the story of Sylvia and her decision to publish James Joyce's controversial, Ulysses. The strength of character Sylvia demonstrated not only in managing her store and personal life but the heartache and anguish, the financial turmoil to support this writer and the precedent it set comes to life thanks to Kerri’s masterful writing. I have heartfelt admiration for Sylvia's sacrifices and the commitment she demonstrated in her resolve to support writers of the era. 

‘Your Ulysses is home at last.” He let out a labored sigh, and she could hear all the wet, raw emotions he was trying to contain. “Thank you, Sylvia.” “It is my absolute honor and pleasure,” she said, meaning every word. She’d taken a gamble, and it had been the right one. It had all been worth it. This moment, this book, this writer, this city.’

Be sure to read Kerri’s Author’s Note at the end as she explains her research with the differentiation and liberties taken between fact and fiction. What convinced me of Kerri’s finesse and style was her commentary on providing a summary of the years that followed right up to the present day. I was captured by the sentiments she expressed regarding a writer and readers journey together and how ‘reading promotes empathy, helps us relax, shows us the world, educates us.’

So … calling all book lovers who appreciate sensational historical fiction that transports you back to the Roaring 1920s and allows you to walk the streets of Paris with such a wonderful sense of time and place. If you love all things literature you simply must read The Paris Bookseller.

‘ … a place of exchange between English and French thinking, we get to enjoy the spoils of peace: literature, friendship, conversation, debate. Long may we enjoy them and may they - instead of guns and grenades - become the weapons of new rebellions.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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