Paris In The Present Tense
I’m always interested in book covers like this. After all, it’s Paris. I had not read Helprin before. Didn’t know what to think. Picked the book up on a whim. Sure glad I did.
Written on a page before the first chapter, this paragraph does much to set the tone for the story. But keep in mind that the novel is NOT a Holocaust novel.
Jules Lacour was born in 1940, while his parents were hiding in an attic in Reims. His mother prayed that he would not cry, he seldom did, and in the four years that followed neither he nor they spoke above a whisper. That was the beginning of a long story.
Jules Lacour is 74 years old. He’s led a good life. But lost his wife who was the love of his life a few years ago. His daughter and her husband live nearby. Jules has a two-year-old grandson, Luc, who is suffering from a terminal illness. So, in affect, now his life has become complicated and he is looking back and wondering why he didn’t do more with his music career. You see, he’s been teaching at the Paris Sorbonne his entire career. But it’s become a bit of a disappointment as now he does not have the riches needed for treatment for his beloved grandson, and he is feeling somewhat of a failure.
Mark Helprin’s previous books include A Soldier of the Great War, Refiner’s Fire and Winter’s Tale.
Helprin writes like a dream. I so enjoyed the reading. He knows Paris and has done it justice. The City of Light has never been more alive. I found myself wishing to be like Dorothy in Wizard of Oz; wanting to click my heels and arrive in Paris.
After a lifetime of discipline, Jules is fabulously fit. From a distance watching him row on the Siene one might think he is a much younger man, maybe even fifty. He prides himself on this. You see, since he was a small child he knew he wanted to be able to defend himself at all costs. His fitness comes into play in a big way in this novel. And so does his sense of humanity. And, so, when this fine novel takes a big turn, you will be shocked.
With complex characters that literally leap off the pages with their authenticity, this novel is staggering in its intensity and its gorgeous prose. It’s such a pleasure to read. Raises the bar for novelists everywhere.
Although I say this is not a Holocaust novel, it does involve The Holocaust. Of course, since Jules is a child of The Holocaust, he’s got a lot going on in his head about the past. Of course he does. But what Helprin has done is bring the current prejudice against Jews in Europe to the forefront. Jews are once again being persecuted as we have seen recently with attacks on journalism in Paris and surrounding areas. Jewish people are afraid to dress in the custom of their faith and the children are afraid at school. It is absolutely harrowing to see this happening in this day and age.
Jules is determined to save his grandson. So what is he going to do? You are going to love this story. You will not see this coming. It’s brilliant.
I loved this book! It’s one I will reread at some time. For now, I’m taking it to my lectures this season and showing it off.
You can purchase PARIS IN THE PRESENT TENSE by Mark Helprin at Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda. From their webite with free shipping to your home, or, in store for 20% off. We’d love to see you!