Writers in Paris

Writers in Paris

Bookworms and Francophiles alike should be sure to bring David Burke’s new tome Writers in Paris: Literary Lives in the City of Light along on their next trip to France. Paris has, of course, always been a magnet for writers, and it’s the rare tourist who doesn’t think of Quasimodo at the first sight of Notre Dame. But Burke not only tracks the all-stars of the 19th and 20th centuries—Balzac, Flaubert, Hugo, Sartre, Camus—and the American clique led by Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Stein. He also traces the legions of writers who migrated to Paris throughout the centuries, using the geography of the city as his guide.

The French writers came from the provinces to make it big (Balzac’s Rastignac was certainly not alone), the Americans came for the glamour and the freedom (and, during Prohibition, the booze) they couldn’t find at home. James Joyce came because he wasn’t being published; he finally finished Ulysses on the Left Bank’s rue du Cardinal Lemoine, and the book was published in 1922 by Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Company on the rue de l’Odéon in the 6th arrondissement.

Others came seeking refuge. The German-Jewish literary critic Walter Benjamin lived in Paris for six years after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, and wrote his greatest works in the Bibliothèque Nationale on rue de Richelieu. In 1940 he took his own life in the Pyrenees rather than risk being transported to a concentration camp. Ten years later, in peacetime, the Romanian playwright Eugène Ionesco became a sensation when his play The Bald Soprano opened on rue de la Huchette.

Burke peppers his delicious guide with all sorts of engaging trivia. You’ll learn about Rabelais’s Gargantua climbing Notre Dame, be reminded of Edith Wharton’s late-in-life love affair and discover who is buried in Montparnasse and who at Père-Lachaise. If you want to know where Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald got soused, you’ll find it here, along with a catalog-length list of things you might have never discovered without Burke’s help. Best of all, Writers in Paris will inspire you to explore the city in depth, whether you are walking down the rue de Rennes or sitting on your own couch, surrounded by Paris past.

Writers in Paris: Literary Lives in the City of Light by David Burke (Counterpoint Press, 2008)

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