Echoes of post-war Paris
Paris Echo — Sebastian Faulks (Penguin Random House, $37.00) reviewed by Louise Ward, Wardini Books
Among the plethora of novels dealing with the everlasting fallout of World War II some stand out. This is one of them.
We are in Paris, city of light and love, but it hasn’t always been that way. During the German occupation from 1940 Parisian women formed relationships with German soldiers and the scars remain. Paris Echo is a modern day investigation into a city that still harbours its ghosts.
Hannah is a postdoctoral researcher with Parisian ghosts of her own — the great love affair of her life played out in the city and her return to research the women of the occupation is at once painful and cathartic. Tariq is a selfobsessed teenager, bored with his comfortable life in Algeria, who sets out to find adventure in Paris where his dead mother once lived. He skirts the migrant quarters trying to make a living, finding that this dark, dirty Paris may answer existential questions he didn’t know he had. He meets Hannah by accident and, although worlds apart, they connect through Tariq’s language skills and the archived testimony of the women of the war. The echoes of the title play out in Paris’s bloody history. Tariq finds traces of his family in references to the Algerian War and the Paris Massacre of 1961, events he was ignorant of before meeting Hannah. His love of the Metro leads him to meet characters who seem to have the ability to weave in and out of time, although rooted to Paris, and their stories fill a hole in Tariq as he pieces together the past. Hannah’s ghosts appear through her research and the subjects’ stories are compelling testimonies of resistance and collaboration, propaganda and protest.
Paris Echo is at once complex and readable, a well-crafted novel of how the past defines the present and how the echoes remain if we listen hard enough, as Tariq tries to do: “… I hoped that maybe it would have meant something to them to know that many years later, someone, even just a nobody from Africa like me, would come to listen to their voices”.