Saturday, 12 March 2011

Le Temps des Cerises by Zillah Bethell

Paris In Turmoil
review by Maryom

Le Temps des Cerises, with its title taken from a popular song of the time, is an amazing sweeping novel of 1870s Paris under siege by Prussians, through the brief armistice and into the days of the Paris Commune - a period of history that to be honest I'm unfamiliar with - the little I know having been gleaned from Bennett's Old Wives Tale .
I wasn't at all sure what to expect when I started to read this book. It was recommended as a novel about 'hot air balloons, cross-dressing revolutionaries and rats on the menu' which rather had me wondering but within a few pages I was caught up in the drama of the characters' lives. The story follows a small number of Parisians - 17 yr old Eveline, whose life is restricted to cooking and cleaning for her father and brother; her fiancé and would-be poet, Laurie; Jacques, her brother, obsessed by the hot air balloons that are the only way out of the city; Bernadine, a nun suddenly left in charge of an orphaned baby; Alphonse, everyone's ideal hero figure - through the fears and turmoils, starvation and bloodbaths of the time, as their paths cross, diverge and cross again.
I'd somehow rather expected a morbid, dismal book - perhaps due in part to the cover illustration of rats being prepared as meat - but it isn't, in any way. It's a wonderful novel moving from comedy to tragedy, from scenes of battle to quiet domesticity, but always full of life. The 'supporting cast' - from drunken grief-stricken father to the herbalist with a side-trade in secrets, nuns in their convent, the workers at the hot-air balloon station, the soldiers readying to defend the city - are all real believable people providing a human backdrop to the main characters, all trying to work out their personal destiny in a time of chaos.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - SerenBooks

Genre - Adult Historical Fiction

Buy Les Temps des Cerises from Amazon

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