Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Review - Cultural Event Django Reinhardt

My wife Minche and I watched on TVMONDE5 (the French TV channel) "Concert des 100 Ans de Django Reinhardt" (100 years of Django Reinhard) which had about ten tribute acts play pieces from the great French Gypsy jazz guitarist of the 1930s thru 50s. The show was an impressive reminder of Django's greatness and that his music plays well over a range of contemporary music styles while providing a showcase for truly talented guitarists since the basis of Django's wonderful melodies is truly fast and virtuoso hand work.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Book Review - "Murder in the Rue de Paradis" by Cara Black

Cara Black’s “Murder in the Rue de Paradis” is the eigth in a mystery series featuring Aimée Leduc, a computer security expert with a private investigator’s license working in Paris. Each novel in the series is set in a different arrondisement, or district, of Paris. Thus, each story is informed by the charm and mysteries of a particular neighborhood. If you like Paris, you will like traipsing through the neighborhoods with Aimée Leduc.
Thirtysomething Aimée also wanders through the romances available to a single woman living in contemporary Paris, love stories that are intertwined with the intrigues surrounding the dark crimes disrupting her computer security business.
Rue Paradis is a fast-paced murder mystery involving a Kurdish assassination plot to kill a member of the Turkish parliament. The action and characters are described within the context of themes that give the story several layers of deeper significance. The novel conveys the yearning for distant homelands in the immigrants’ hearts as they struggle with living in the modern, but alienating, metropolis of Paris. The past shapes the topography of the emotional present where the characters act out their lives. The novel illustrates that the current emotional terrain of ethnic conflict is always a product of the past because past grievance constantly drives present circumstance.
East meets West and the international politics of this clash are made vivid and given personality by the colorful characters driving forward the intrigues which provide narrative force to the novel. Moslems are coming from the closed societies of the East to the freedom of free-speaking Paris, one of the capitals of the West. But the freedom of the West also makes it easier for agents from the East to settle scores from the long-simmering blood feuds of the East.
In this novel, Kurds are being ethnically cleansed by the Turks in a tradition of ethnic violence reaching back to the First World War. Kurdish characters have beautifully memories of green valleys and beautiful fruit orchards in their ethnic lands—this region was the home of the Garden of Eden—and these Eden-like images are then obliterated by other memories of destroyed villages and dead women and children. The images of grievance are dramatically painted in the reader’s mind; the bleakness of modern progress etched by the irreversible loss of a beautiful past.
Another layer of conflict comes from a religiously motivated young woman on jihad to assassinate a Muslin woman member of Turkey’s parliament. This conflict results in a vivid showdown between a woman trapped by ancient religious fundamentalism moving by stealth to assassinate a woman representing the hope of a more tolerant future.

But as the story unfolds, religious and ethnic antagonisms provide only a partial explanation to the crimes occurring. An element is missing. The final missing piece is provided by greed, the universal motivator to low crimes. Western businesses are seeking to capture rich contracts with the aid of Eastern facilitators who cash in by selling out local interests. Greed uses religious fundamentalism to facilitate its agenda, while the opportunists profit on the tragic disruption going on in the Middle East. So people die—there and here.

Cara Black has a detailed eye for the physical changes of progress transforming the appearance of Paris, an old city. Just as building façades change, she sees the lives of new immigrants changing the ambience of Parisian neighborhoods while bringing the cultural diversity to Paris that has been its centuries-long hallmark. For a long time, Paris has been a place of outsiders who came from somewhere else. So it is here.
Contemporary France comes to the reader through the Paris police, energetically battling terrorism with SWAT teams while it’s jaded “je ne sais quoi” eye watches the currents of life flowing down the great channel of time in the ancient city.
For Aimée Leduc, one romance left for dead at the beginning of the tale ends with the promise of a second romance, apparently from an earlier novel, landing at the airport an hour after the end of the book. Love and romance circle through the life of a smart young woman trying to figure it all out.
The author lays out the twists and turns and builds the mystery of the plot in the first two-thirds of the book. She then goes uptempo in the last third. I read the novel on my Kindle and as I went past 80 percent I was hitting the page forward keys bang bang bang—a compelling read!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Book Review - "Vienna 1934: Betrayal at the Ballplatz"

A review of my historical novel from the Historical Novel Society - May 2009 Online Review
VIENNA 1934: Betrayal at the Ballplatz
Paul A. Myers, BookSurge, 2008, $16.99, pb, 210pp, 9781439202036
    It is Vienna, 1934. The Austrian government is starting to become a Fascist state as German-supported Nazis decide to overthrow Chancellor Dollfuss’s government. Once Dollfuss’s government is dismantled, then Austria will belong to Hitler. In Myers’ story, Geoffrey Ashbrook is a British journalist who has come to Vienna to write news dispatches for the London papers and to write secret reports for the British cabinet. While in Austria he falls in love with Anna Marie Linden, daughter of an Austrian land owner. The plot thickens as Anna’s stepbrother falls in with the Nazis and both Geoffrey and Anna’s lives are in danger.
    This book will appeal to readers who are interested in Austrian politics in the early 1930s. The story takes place in the early days of World War II—before Mussolini joined Hitler as a member of the Axis. In 1934, the Austrians were counting on Mussolini to keep them safe from Germany. Unfortunately, as Myers relates, there were many people within the higher ranks of police and government officialdom who were pro-Nazi.
    Myers’ characters feel true to the era. He loosely based several characters on real people of the era—such as writers and journalists, socialites and politicians. For example, Ashley’s uncle is based on W. Somerset Maugham. These fabricated characters are woven into the storyline along with real people such as Empress Zita of Austria, Crown Prince Otto von Habsburg, G.E.R. Geyde, Edda Ciano (daughter of Mussolini), and many more. Myers did an excellent job of making the story real due to his good research and fine storytelling. The interweaving of fact, fiction, real, and fictional people makes this book exciting and romantic. -- Naomi Theye

Book Review - "Paris 1934: Victory in Retreat"

A review of my historical novel from the Historical Novel Society Online Review.

PARIS 1934: Victory in Retreat

Paul A. Myers, Paul A. Myers Books, 2009, $10.99, pb, 249pp, 9780982596005
    Sandrine Durand is a budding young journalist and student covering a series of political uprisings in Paris in 1934. Fresh and flirtatious, Sandrine’s presence adds a sense of brightness to any scene during this otherwise troubled period. Serving as a part-time reporter for French and American papers, Sandrine is ready to prove her mettle and takes no nonsense from fellow reporters. Forming an unexpected and advantageous alliance, Sandrine claims her independence and allows her sensuality to reign free, setting her stakes high for the future.
    Richly detailed description brings Sandrine’s Paris to life and illustrates the mounting tension in France as the German threat grows. As Sandrine becomes more involved in journalism, new friendships and a sweet romance take shape and add charm to the story. Though the political atmosphere provides Sandrine and her fellow reporters with plenty of action, the serious business of reporting is counterbalanced by playful banter and jokes at the Oasis, the Americans’ favorite bistro. Myers highlights the easy passions and unselfconscious enjoyment of French society in these lively bistro scenes. These slice-of-life moments add depth to the plot and help the reader traverse the complexities of the political setting and history of the region.
    Readers who are interested in pre-World War II French society will find much to enjoy in Paris 1934. Myers’ descriptive and thoroughly researched narrative feels true to the era; the “City of Light” shines through the page.
--Gricel Dominguez

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Book Review - "And the Show Went On" by Alan Riding

I posted this review of Alan Riding's excellent new book "And the Show Went On" about cultural life in Paris during the German Occupation of the early 1940s. This book will be discussed in more detail since there are several interesting themes and threads covered by the book. And of course, some of these themes echo to the present day. And most of the characters had their roots in the cultural landscape of Paris of the 1930s.

France was the major cultural space of the western world in the 1920s and 30s. But it was increasingly wracked by intense cultural conflict in the 1930s between a reactionary and anti-Semitic Right and a socialist and often Communist Left. Intellectuals in the two camps engaged in literary warfare against a wider cultural backdrop of world-class art, music, ballet, and theater.

Then came 1940 and total political defeat. The German Occupation became a petri dish in which to gauge how different individuals and groups reacted under an often deathly stress. Many French gave a grudging acquiescence to the Vichy government under old Marshal Petain since when you lose, you lose. Many turned against this government "by stooge." After Germany invaded Russia in 1941, the French Communists organized and executed a highly effective and very brave resistance. Many non-Communist resistants also joined the overall movement. So there was a small, vibrant underground cultural resistance.

More interesting is the journey of the Right Wing writers. From being hate-filled polemicists in the 1930s, this group now had the power through their magazines to denounce other Frenchmen and cause their arrest by the Germans, possible deportation to concentration camps, or simple execution in France. Somewhere in here you find the Seventh Circle of Cultural Hell. The irony was that many were brilliant writers and thinkers who took a wrong turn in their personal development, the lure of the romance of extreme ideology with its promise of total commitment so beloved by intellectuals. This is one of the most fascinating sections of Riding's book.

Another interesting section is the account of American Florence Gould, who hosted a very popular salon in Paris during the Occupation. She was also involved in shady financial shenanigans with high-ranking Nazis in a Monaco bank. She said she did this to protect her husband, who was suspected of being Jewish. After the war, she survived investigations into possible collaboration and went on to become a prestigious supporter of the arts and recipient of the French Legion d'Honneur. Riding concludes, "Over the years, Florence's wartime salon and her questionable choice of friends have been quietly forgotten." Money buys prestige buys "understanding" from the right people for the right people.

The last section deals with the "epuration," or period of revenge starting with the Liberation and lasting into the peacetime years. This became the mirror-image of the denunciations by the Right Wing writers--a period of false denunciation, settling scores, and for many the safety of silence.

What is not emphasized, but does come out, is that many average French people and workers behaved well under difficult circumstances while many of the elite and privileged behaved rather badly. This book is a beautiful exposition of how a good people behaved in an awful war.

Monday, December 13, 2010

First Post

This is a trial post for the new blog Paris Books, to discuss books and things related to the my writing of historical fiction set in 1930s Paris.