This new novel features a real box of historic artifacts that fascinate the author of this book, Elena Mauli Shapiro, a girl growing up in Paris. The apartment upstairs, once occupied by Louise Brunet and her husband, is the source of the box that no one claimed after Louise’s death. Fortunately for us, Elena’s family cared enough about history to absorb this box into their household. It even accompanied them on their move to America.
Before I write anything else, I have to say that Elena Mauli Shapiro is my kind of writer! Not only does the history of remnants from the past capture her, but she is as curious (nosy, perhaps?) as I am. I also commend her for the grace and beauty of her language. I believed I was in France between the two devastating world wars while I read this book. The use of these wonderful artifacts, as well as her magnificent command of the language, transported me completely. Her writing was spare, yet on target throughout. Having read far too many overwritten, unnecessarily wordy books recently, her economy charmed me.
Elena Mauli Shapiro’s debut novel, 13 Rue Therese, uses this box of real artifacts as a frame for the novel. The photographs, letters, coins, gloves, postcards and small trinkets frame the imaginative story of Louise Brunet and her family. Extensive research of the years between the devastating world wars of the 20th century provide a strong historical foundation. The central characters of the novel are real, pictured in the abandoned photographs and ephemera. History and imagination combine in a reminiscent mixture that ends in 1928. We readers wish for more.
Shapiro uses an unreliable narrator as the modern transcriber of the artifacts. He is definitely the weakest link. As an older reader, I found his fever and distress irritating. I would have preferred someone with more backbone, but maybe then he would have dominated the story and diminished the portrait of Louise. Written as it is, he is merely a fly or a mosquito buzzing annoyingly in the background.
Images of the artifacts appear throughout the book. You can find links to larger photographs with more detail on the book’s website <http://www.13ruetherese.com/about> . Even more conveniently, if you have a smart phone with the QR app, you can use it to fly right to the website as you read. Each artifact has its own link, many of them to You Tube or audio links, further enhancing your reading. Three cheers for technologically savvy writers! Although I don’t have a smart phone, when I finished reading the book, I went write to my computer and found the website. I loved seeing more pictures of Paris and the real 13, Rue Therese, as well as finding out everything I wanted to know about the author. I even subscribed to her blog!
I love history, research and visiting the past through books, music, television and the cinema, so this book met every criteria I look for in a great read! This book is a wonderful model for historic writing, a genre that appeals to my writing plans.
By the way, the cover of this book is wonderful. I would like that portrait on my wall!
Here is the Amazon link to the book. There are links to other book sites as well. It is available in a Kindle edition too.