[Books] “Young Once,” by Patrick Modiano, “Marcel Proust for our time”

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 9.04.38 PMWhen Patrick Modiano was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 2014 he was virtually unknown outside France. He is a prolific author, with 30 books published in French, but very few had been translated into English. Yale University press promptly picked up several of them for American publication, and now Amazon teems with Modiano offerings.

The Kindle edition I read was promoted by the New York Review of Books, which supports many old or under-read novels that I’ve enjoyed in recent months.

I knew nothing of Modiano when the Nobel award was announced, but I started looking around among his works and settled on Young Once (original title Une Jeunesse), for several reasons, not the least of which was that the New York Times called him “Marcel Proust for our time.” I am not inclined to argue.

Young Once is a coming-of-age novel set in the postwar years, with its roots deep in the small and not-so-small cons and tricks the Parisians employed to stay alive during the German occupation. Modiano’s own father skirted the edge of the Resistance, more involved in staying alive than in making a political point. The father of his protagonist was a bicyclist of some note who rode at the Vel’ (for Vélodrome) d’Hiver, the Winter Stadium best known as the collection point for French Jews rounded up for deportation in 1942. It was part of one of the buildings left over from the World’s Fair that ended in 1900 and is remembered with a plaque near its location, which is just a few hundred yards from the Eiffel Tower (Google Maps).

The charm of “Young Once” will be obvious to anyone who knew Paris in the ’60s. I was there early in the 1970s, when not much had changed, and the book brings back the memories of dark streets, cheap hotels, and neighborhood restaurants where a good lunch could be had for less than a dollar. Despite what you read about the “Trente Glorieuses,” the glorious thirty years of rapid recovery after the war, times were still tough. In 1960 the Marshall Plan had only been operating for ten years, and it takes longer than that to recover from a national catastrophe that cuts 70% from GDP.

Understated Writing

The story is simple and the writing is understated (in Damion Searls’s expert translation):

Louis Memling, not yet 20, is discharged from his national military service and takes up with a shady character, Brossier, who promises him what he wants most: waterproof shoes with thick crepe soles, and an overcoat. His new friend provides them.

While Brossier is out of town on one of his mysterious business trips, Louis meets Odile, a painfully timid girl who lost her job in a perfumerie for shoplifting a few lipsticks, but has ambitions of being a singer. Her first patron helps her cut an audition record, then kills himself. She, a minor, is picked up at a police roadblock and forced to be bait for a rapist. In desperation, with no friends and two francs less than she needs for her coffee, she goes to a café, where Louis finds her. From then on they are inseparable.

Brossier finds Louis the job he promised, as a night porter at a questionable auto-rental company. It soon turns to money-laundering (remember: this was the time of international capital controls and there was no EU). The first trip, to England, goes well.

It’s a subsequent assignment that changes the course of Louis and Odile’s lives. A felony, plus the passage of time, turns them from petty criminals into substantial citizens with a house in the Alps, far away from France.

Modiano became known in the United States as the co-writer of “Lacombe, Lucien,” the 1973 film about the French Milice (the French branch of the Gestapo), co-written by Louis Malle, who directed.

Young Once: Highly recommended for Paris lovers and fans of sparsely written, penetrating literature. Originally published, in French, in 1985. NYRB edition March 2016.

I read the Kindle edition, published by NYRB Classics, which I bought from Amazon at this page. $9.99. Also available in paperback.

Related sites you may enjoy:

NYRB

Patrick Modiano Wikipedia page

Patrick Modiano: the Nobel Prize-winner nobody had read (The Telegraph)

The Unforgotten: Patrick Modiano’s mysteries (The New Yorker)

Patrick Modiano, an Author of Paris Mysteries, Keeps His Own (The New York Times)

Goodreads reviews

Kirkus review (which gets the time of the action wrong)

About the Author and translator (from Amazon)

Patrick Modiano was born in the Boulogne-Billancourt suburb of Paris near the end of the Nazi occupation of France. He studied at the Lycée Henri-IV and the Sorbonne. As a teenager he took geometry lessons with the writer Raymond Queneau, who would play a key role in his development. He has written more than thirty works of fiction, including novels, children’s books, and the screenplay for Louis Malle’s film Lacombe, Lucien. In 2014, Modiano won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Damion Searls has translated many classic twentieth-century writers, including Marcel Proust, Rainer Maria Rilke, Elfriede Jelinek, Christa Wolf, Hans Keilson, and Hermann Hesse. For NYRB Classics, he edited Henry David Thoreau’s The Journal: 1837–1861 and has translated Nescio, Nietzsche, Robert Walser, Alfred Döblin, and André Gide. He is currently writing a book about Hermann Rorschach and the cultural history of the Rorschach test.

Author interview on BookGoodies

BookGoodies, a well-known site for promoting books, was nice enough to do an interview with me this week. For your general edification, you can find it here.

Here’s one of the questions they asked — how I write. (If you’re not up on the lingo, a “pantser” is someone who creates the plot as he goes. Nobody is 100% pantser or 100% outliner — I create detailed outlines that are usually overtaken by events.

If you’re interested in the nuts and bolts, I name some of the most interesting software I’ve found.

Tell us about your writing process.
I’d like to be an outliner but I generally wind up being a pantser, because the process of writing sparks off many of the ideas that wind up in the finished work.

My main tool for information-gathering is Evernote. I tuck factoids about places, people, and things in it, organize them by book and character, then turn the notes into my rather detailed sketches. I keep those in Scrivener.

When I’m ready to write, I use an outliner (usually Tree, a neat horizontal outliner for Mac) or Scapple, the mind-map app from Scrivener. From there I start the writing process.

The first draft is longhand, but thereafter the manuscript lives in Scrivener. I edited on double-spaced printouts.

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Review copies of Last Stop: Paris are still available

UPDATE FRIDAY AFTERNOON: Two copies are left.

I found a few remaining paperback review copies of Last Stop: Paris, which I’ll make available to anyone who would like to read it and post a review on Amazon. If you aren’t familiar with it, you can click the cover image in the sidebar to see the first 10%.

The book is selling well, and the Amazon reviews have pretty much matched the rave it received from Kirkus Reviews. So far (on 19 reviews) it has a 4.8-star rating (of 5 maximum). I’m optimistic that it will eventually have as many reviews as Treasure of Saint-Lazare (145-ish), which is still selling well after three years on the market. It’s said that there’s no reason an ebook should go out of date, which makes sense when I look at Treasure.

Email me at this address if you’d like one of the paperbacks.

A New Story

There’s something new on the horizon. In a short time (I know better than to promise a date) Lauren 3D cover for ads Wed 03-09-16 (5er)I’ll publish a short story telling the history behind the plot of Treasure and Last Stop. It will be titled Lauren, and will tell the romantic story of Eddie Grant’s courtship of his first wife Lauren during their college days in the ’80s.

Lauren will be an ebook only, and I plan to offer it free to all my blog subscribers.

(Thanks again to Jane Dixon-Smith for the cover design. This is her third for me.)

Water in Paris – a charming and informative series from FUSAC

If you’ve been visiting Paris for a long time, you’ll recognize FUSAC for what it used to be – a classified-ad service for expats looking for housing. It published a weekly magazine, but if you needed a place to stay, the place to go was the bulletin board in the entrance of the American Church, overlooking the Seine on the Quai d’Orsay, just down the street from the Alma Bridge.

(Don’t confuse the American Church (interdenominational Protestant) with the American Cathedral (Episcopal). They aren’t far apart and they work together but they’re as different as, well, Episcopalians and Catholics.

The bulletin board still exists (or did the last time I looked, which has been a couple of years),

The FUSAC series on water
The FUSAC series on water

but it’s been supplanted by an effective web site and blog, which in recent years have become much more sophisticated and interesting. Witness the current series on the waters of Paris. Today I noticed #5 in the series, on the canals. I recommend it.

Until Napoleon, water was the big problem for the less-affluent citizens of Paris (which was the equivalent of our 99%). Later, canals were dug, locks were installed, and water flowed, to the point that it is no longer a concern.

To quote the current issue:

“The city of Paris is the proprietor of and responsible for a fluvial network of 130km of canals which cross 5 departments (Paris, Seine-Saint-Denis, Seine-et-Marne, Oise and Aisne) and two regions (Île-de-France et Picardie). There are three canals that interconnect: canal de l’Ourcq brings in water from the rivers Ourcq and Marne to feed the canals Saint Martin and Saint Denis.

“The construction of the Paris canal network was ordered by Napoleon I in 1802 as a way of providing fresh water to Paris which was out-growing its sources. It was also instrumental in transporting goods including food and building materials by boat, with two ports established at the Port de l’Arsenal and the Bassin de la Villette. This was the first time that the same waterway was to be used for navigation and drinking water. It took 23 years to complete the network of canals. Rest assured the canal water is no longer used for drinking water, but it is still makes up 60% of Paris’ unique secondary water network for street cleaning and gardening.”

Read the installment here, and scroll to the bottom for links to other installments.

(H/t to Dr. Mary Greenwood Johnson for correcting my error – I had the denomination of the two churches mixed up.)


 

I’m the Part-Time Parisian. You can see my novels here.

 

[Review] The Capitalist: A Thriller (A Louis Morgon Thriller), by Peter Steiner

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 9.41.57 PMOpening Peter Steiner’s new novel The Capitalist was like visiting an old friend in his quaint

cottage in the Loire — comfortable, relaxed (with a glass of good wine) and confident you’re about to hear a great story.

I came to Peter’s books with The Resistance, when he presented it at the American Library in Paris. His protagonist, Louis Morgon, is a retired (not by choice) CIA spook and sort-of diplomat who settles in the small French town of Saint-Léon-sur-Dême, which, in his depression after being fired and divorced, he chooses in a very simple way: he gets off the plane at De Gaulle airport, hitches up his backpack, and starts walking south. When he gets to a place he likes, he stops and settles in.

In The Resistance he bought a long-abandoned house where he found a stash of World War II pistols used by the Résistance, thus the title. I reviewed that here.

By now Louis is getting older. He’ll never see 70 again, but he’s accumulated a deep network of friends, including the local policeman (Renard) and a lover (Pauline), who play outsized roles in The Capitalist. Over the years in Saint-Léon-sur-Dême he’s become an accomplished painter, a skill that plays an oversized role in the resolution of the story.


Thomas Dunne Books. Available in Kindle ($12.99) or hardcover ($19.84) editions  ****


I don’t know Peter Steiner well, in fact hardly at all. I met him that one time in Paris and exchanged emails with him, and he was nice enough to write a blurb for my novel Last Stop: Paris. I do know that he lives part of the year in France, and have to think that informs his descriptions of village life, just as my time in Paris informs my writing.

He’s been in the creative world for a very long time, mainly as an acclaimed cartoonist for The New Yorker, then as novelist. Remember the one from 1993, captioned “On the Internet no one knows you’re a dog?” That was Peter’s, and it’s the most-reproduced cartoon in the magazine’s history.

Morgon’s bête noir is St. John Larrimer — “he pronounced his name SIN-jun in the English manner,” a little touch that tells you everything you need to know — a mini-Madoff who succeeds in fleecing all his money management clients. The most tragic of them is Pauline’s brother Jean-Baptiste, an unaware man who decides it’s easier to send his clients’ money to Larrimer than to manage it himself, so it’s gone. Unfortunately, he told them he was the manager, which turns out to be illegal, and his way out is to slit his wrists.

Pauline, her family and friends are seriously hurt, not least by the money they lost, and Louis is furious. As he has in the past, he determines to do something about it, and he does.

Stick with it through the first couple of chapters, which deal with some of the collateral damage of the excessively enthusiastic capitalism that marked the first few years of the century — it’s what James Michener called “weeding out the ribbon clerks.” Don’t be one of those and you’ll be amply rewarded.

The plot is complicated and tricky, and the best tradition of this kind of novel it’s very hard to tell if the good guys win or lose. I think I know, but I suggest you form your own opinion.

(This review is based on an advance uncorrected proof furnished by the publisher.)

Peter Steiner's most famous cartoon
Peter Steiner’s most famous cartoon

Getting to the Bottom of Paris History

In a city of parks, one that stands out is the cool ribbon of green stretching through three arrondissements on the Right Bank of Paris, the Canal Saint-Martin. It’s also a central element of 19th-century Paris history, and right now it’s getting a facelift.

Paris history
A tour boat glides slowly along Canal Saint-Martin

Go there on any day to find a roiling mix of humanity. It’s home to the homeless, a destination for aspiring musicians, a walkway for lovers, a playground for children. All of it in two long, narrow stretches named the Quai de Valmy and the Quai de Jemmapes. It’s close to the Gare de l’Est, one of the major rail stations, which has a constellation of good restaurants in and around it. The neighborhood had gentrified considerably over the last decade and a half.

I spent considerable time walking around the canal doing research for an important scene in my new novel Last Stop: Paris. In that scene, Eddie Grant goes to a (fictional) street leading off Quai de Jemmapes to enlist the aid of his old friend, the retired general Jeremy Bentham, in finding the antagonist he knows is there but can’t identify. It kicks off the major second-half plot of the book, and Jeremy introduces us to several unsavory veterans of East German intelligence who furnish the information Eddie needs to solve the puzzle.

Paris history
The canal’s above-ground path (Google Maps)

A Magnet for ‘Stuff’

As you can imagine, any 114-year-old urban waterway picks up a lot of stuff, so once every ten years or so the  City of Paris mobilizes, builds a temporary dam at each end, drains the water, and looks to see what treasures have wound up under the water.

Last time, in 2001, the workers dragged away 40 tons of muck and mire, plus some random pieces of gold, bicycles, motorcycles, and the occasional gun. They’ve already found one gun this year, and solved the mystery of where many of the missing Vélib rental bicycles went. They’ve also carried off four and a half tons of fish, from sunfish to 40-pound carp, for release upstream and downstream.

Built by Napoléon I

The first Emperor Napoleon had the canal built in 1802 to provide water for the city, whose residents — or at least the poor ones, which was almost everybody — suffered from a serious water shortage. It connects two rivers, the Ourcq in the north (via the Canal de l’Ourcq) and the Seine in the center of the city. Part of it is underground (there was a risk at one point that the whole thing would be filled and paved over, but good sense prevailed).

It’s now part of the system that furnishes the non-potable water used to clean the streets. For a good explanation of that, see this post from Parisian Fields.

One of the better Paris bloggers working today is Peter Olson, whose blog “Peter’s Paris, Paris as Seen by a Retired Swede,” is full of good pictures of the city, and his post on the canal really shows what the workers are bringing up. I recommend you subscribe if you like Paris pictures, as I do. I look forward to his emails. (While you’re at it, please subscribe to this blog, too, using the signup boxes. We won’t share your email address with anyone.)

The Hotel du Nord is one of the best-known landmarks of the canal because it was the setting for a famous 1938 movie, here on IMDB. There’s a better synopsis on Wikipedia. (The film was shot in a studio, however.)

There’s more on the canal at Wikipedia.

The Guardian had a good story about the cleanup, as did the Daily Mail.

Last Stop: Paris Named Finalist in Shelf Unbound Competition for Best Indie Book

Press release from Shelf Unbound magazine

Last Stop: Paris by John Pearce has been honored as one of six finalists in the 2015 Shelf Unbound Competition for Best Indie Book. Held annually, the competition, hosted by Shelf Unbound magazine, receives about a thousand entries and is, according to publisher Margaret Brown, “a highly competitive field.”

Last Stop: Paris exemplifies the best of independently published books and we are thrilled toFinalist-1 spotlight it and include an interview with John Pearce in the December/January 2016 issue of Shelf Unbound magazine,” says Brown. 

John Pearce is a part-time Parisian who lives quite happily most of the the year in Sarasota, Florida. He worked as a journalist in Washington and Europe, where he covered economics for the International Herald Tribune and edited a business magazine. After a business career in Sarasota, he spends his days working on his future books – The new one, Last Stop: Paris, is a 2015 project. It is a sequel to Treasure of Saint-Lazare.

For several months each year, he and his wife Jan live in Paris, walk its streets, and chase down interesting settings for future books and his blog, PartTimeParisian.com. They lived earlier in Frankfurt, Germany, which gave him valuable insights for several of the scenes in Last Stop: Paris.

Thanks to Shelf Unbound for the honor. Last Stop: Paris and its prequel, Treasure of Saint-Lazare, are available in Kindle, paperback and audiobook editions from Amazon.

Book Review: Time and Time Again, a twisty time traveler for the history buff

If you had one chance to go back in time and change history for the better, where would you go, and when? Hardly anyone would argue with Sarajevo 1914, when the Austrian archduke was murdered by a semi-competent Serbian anarchist, thus starting the fall of dominoes that led to World War I and, by extension, World War II and the political and military turmoil that followed. The smoke didn’t really blow away until after Korea, and the Cold War lingered until 1989. An entire century wasted.

Ben Elton’s Time and Time Again is an elegant and detailed imagination of what might have happened if a secret society of British academics, following a formula discovered by Sir Isaac Newton, had sent a cashiered Army captain back to stop the assassination.

As you can imagine, things didn’t turn out as planned. Captain Hugh Stanton, a competent man in his own world (of British Special Forces and reality TV) is far out of his depth 110 years before his own time, and he’s at the mercy of forces neither he, the ancient and berobed members of the secret society, or Sir Isaac could have predicted. Elton has created a maze of switchbacks and false leads that makes for fun reading, especially if you understand something of the history of Germany as the Great War began, and the life of Rosa Luxembourg.

It’s no spoiler to say he does in fact go back to 1914 (that’s in Chapter 2) and he does in fact foil the assassination. It would be a spoiler to tell what happens after that, except that he meets some interesting people and falls into a little mid-century romance with a young suffragette living ahead of her time. It’s the twists and turns after he’s done his job, and discovered to his chagrin that the unintended consequences were serious indeed, that make the book so interesting a read.

Ben Elton is an Australian writer who’s immensely popular in the U.K., but not known so well in the United States. He’s written fourteen best-sellers, including some that were made into movies, and has several TV scripts to his credit. His books are well rated on Amazon, and I plan to read more of them. I suggest you do so as well, and start with this one.

(I read the hardback British version furnished by the publisher, which was published last year.)

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Time and Time Again, by Ben Elton. Publication Dec. 22, 2015. From Thomas Dunne Books, a division of St. Martin’s Press. Hardback, $26.99 (Amazon, $15.14), Kindle $12.99. Ranked #26 in time travel science fiction on publication date.

Last Stop: Paris – “An International thriller that’s got everything”

Thanks to Harriet Welty Rochefort for her gracious review of Last Stop: Paris. She called it “an international thriller that’s got everything : a mystery and a love story with as its backdrop Paris, Miami, Bulgaria, Frankfurt and other points in Europe and the U.S.”

Most American lovers of Paris know Harriet as one of the foremost interpreters of Parisian (and French) life to those of us on the other side of the Atlantic. She’s lived there for forty years and is the author of a series of fascinating and insightful books on what makes Americans and the French so different. And, make no mistake about it, we are different. Even those of us who’ve spent enough time there to be familiar with France are frequently baffled by the habits and folkways. (For example, don’t even think of going into a Parisian shop without saying “Bonjour” first.)

Here’s her review, in full:

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 9.25.45 PM

“Here’s an international thriller that’s got everything : a mystery and a love story with as its backdrop Paris, Miami, Bulgaria, Frankfurt and other points in Europe and the U.S. Last Stop : Paris is the sequel to Treasure of Saint-Lazare, the best-selling historical mystery of 2014 in which the protagonist, French-American Eddie Grant, searches for an Old Master painting which has gone missing since the end of World War II. In Last Stop : Paris Eddie, who combines European savvy and smarts with American pragmatism and a « can-do » spirit, embarks on a dangerous pursuit of the criminals who who killed his family ten years earlier. Pearce, a former journalist, is a master at describing place and as an American who has lived in France for decades, I salute him for his accurate and colorful descriptions of places in Paris tourists know as well as ones they may not. I also salute him for his obvious knowledge, not only of places in Paris, but of the Parisians, the way they look and the way they speak. This is the real thing. Just one thing : Be careful not to start it if you’ve got other things to do : you won’t be able to put it down.”
See her books on her Amazon author pageJoie de Vivre is on my review list, so you should see it here soon.
The audio version of Last Stop: Paris went live on Amazon tonight, and you can see it here. The suite of editions is now complete — paperback, Kindle and audiobook. I’ll have more to say about it in the next few days.
If you’re a reviewer of audio books, I have a few Audible.com codes to distribute. Contact me at jmp@alesiapress.com if you’re interested, and thanks in advance.

Launch Day for Last Stop: Paris

Tuesday is launch day for Last Stop: Paris, the sequel to Treasure of Saint-Lazare. Both the Kindle and paperback versions will be on sale, and the audio book will follow within days, or as soon as Audible.com and Amazon approve the outstanding narration Dan Gallagher did.

I invite you to download and read the book and post an Amazon review. You can find the book at this link.

If you receive a review copy, just note that there are a few editorial changes, and I’ve added a map showing the sites of the action across Europe, from Paris to Miami to the Black Sea, plus a page of blurbs.

The price will stay at $2.99 for two or three weeks as reviews come in, then rise. If you haven’t read it, or would like the final version, now’s the time (early reviewers will receive signed copies of the paperback as a memento).

Kirkus Reviews gave my novel a very positive review, which I hope everyone reads. You’ll find it at this link.

Kirkus Says —

“A full-throttle adventure through modern Europe and the Mediterranean in a book that’s part thriller, part mystery, and all rollicking ride… An exhilarating journey that will satisfy the most avid thriller reader.” Kirkus Reviews