“The Paris Architect” by Charles Belfoure

Paris

asteriaiconI came across this book while visiting my mom in Toronto. We spend a nice lazy afternoon walking around Costco, and naturally I gravitated towards the book section. I had never heard of this book before, but the synopsis won me. After all, I think I have established I dig me some good WWII fiction. I ended up buying a copy for myself, and a copy for another friend who also is fascinated by WWII anything. I am a firm believer that if we do not seek to remember and understand our past, we are doomed to repeat it in the future.

The novel takes place in Paris during WWII, where the architect Lucien Bernard just wants to stay unnoticed. He doesn’t have much empathy for the Jews; he wants nothing to do with them, or the trouble that follows them. One day a very wealthy business man approaches him, and asked him if he would build a secret hiding space for a pretty price. Lucien is conflicted. If he helps the wealthy man by building a space for the Jews to hide, he risks the wrath of the Nazis, which most certainly will lead to his death. But, he can really use the money in these difficult times. He decides to help him out, just this once. When he sees how his clever work has outsmarted the Nazis however, he can’t help himself but take the business man up on his offer when he is asked again for his help. Now his pride is at stake, and he is extremely proud of himself, and wants to see if he can do it again. He makes a series of secret hiding spaces, all with great success: until one fails. While the business man ensures him there was nothing he could do, Lucien feels incredibly guilty. He is now connected to the Jews, and feels the death is his fault. How can he make this right?

What a wonderfully written story. The author has done some research for the novel, and he makes the sections of the book regarding Nazi torture very realistic, which was the hardest part of the book to read, harder still to know that the torturous acts were most likely written on true events.  The author truly has a gift of bringing Paris alive. He writes incredible detail about the streets and the buildings, the smells and the sights. I was so enthralled by the story; everything felt so real, even the fear of the Nazis, where a simple sound scared me. It is an incredible story about how one small decision can change your viewpoint, and in fact, change the course of your life.

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