Wednesday, June 18, 2014


(Link to book)

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

I have read a lot of books about World War II over the years and I am always surprised that writers continue to find new things to say about it. This book intrigued me because it is about Paris in the year leading up to World War II. Readers are introduced to cross-dressers, lesbians, photographers, writers, and all the other bohemian types that flocked to Paris in the 1920s and 1930s.  This particular novel centers around an avant-garde club called the Chameleon Club. The proprietor will make you immediately think of Marlene Dietrich in "Morocco" and the club itself will make you think of "Cabaret." People flock to the Chameleon Club for its risque' shows and colorful characters. It is the heart and soul of the novel that connects all of the characters.

The story of the characters moves and back and forth from before the war to many years later. It focuses on photographer Gabor Tsenyi, writer Lionel Maine, patroness Lily de Rossignol, race car driver and Nazi interrogator Lou Villars and several others. They are all connected by their association with the Chameleon Club. The reader sees how the characters grow and change through from the 1920s and beyond. Lou Villars becomes the centerpiece as she goes from a young athlete to a scandalous cross-dressing lesbian race car driver to a villainous Nazi interrogator. There isn't a single character that is particularly likeable or that even inspires a great deal of compassion. However, they are all memorable and intriguing. We see exactly what drives these individuals and how they grow and develop as people. Paris itself becomes an important character in the book as we see how it changes during this turbulent time.

While I found the book intriguing and I enjoyed reading about Paris just prior to WWII, I didn't particularly like any of the characters and I often found the change of perspective jarring. The book was inspired in part by this photograph by this photo of a lesbian couple at The Monocle by Brassai:

I was charmed by the inspiration for the novel but less so by the execution.  Even though we are given the opportunity to know all of the characters quite well, many of them aren't interesting enough as individuals to merit the attention given to them. For some reason, most the characters fell flat for me. Prose is clearly a gifted writer who researched her book well and offers readers a wonderful portrait of Paris at a particular time.  However, this is not a story that is going to stay with me.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended for certain readers. If you like historical fiction, this could be a nice addition to your WWII reading. It is a wonderful snapshot of Paris before the war. However, the characters aren't interesting enough to stay with you.

Read more about this book on Amazon.

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