From Publishers Weekly
When one thinks of Paris, the images that come to mind are of grandeur, grace and sophistication: sweeping, tree-lined boulevards, the Champs-Elyses and the Opera House. But Paris was once as cramped and dingy as the rest of medieval Europe, and the man credited with cleaning it up (or ruining its charm, as some still see it) is Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann, who served as prefect of the Seine from 1853 to 1869. LaFarge (The Artist of the Missing) pays homage to this mystifying personage in his tremendous novel, which is every bit as grand, gracious and sophisticated as Paris itself. As LaFarge tells it, the story of Haussmann goes well beyond the man as city planner he is also embroiled in a love affair and political scandal. We meet Madeleine, a wistful orphan who escapes a convent and is rescued by M. de Fonce, a "demolition man" whose prominence comes from tearing the city apart and selling its treasures as collectibles. De Fonce's home is a frequent evening entertainment spot for Haussmann, and a romance soon develops between Madeleine and the baron. A predictably clandestine affair ensues, and once Madeleine is pregnant, Haussmann shuns her. But Madeleine is a woman with connections, and she is determined to seek revenge via Haussmann's demise. LaFarge, posing as translator (he even includes a "Note to the English Edition"), neatly integrates geographical and cultural references into the tale, making this as much an enlightening history of Paris as it is a tragic, affecting love story. An astonishing amount of research, a believable tone and a captivating story all come together to make this work a stunning success. Agent, Gloria Loomis.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann, planner of the grand boulevards, much-lauded gardens, and architecture of modern Paris, is said to have regretted his changed city on his deathbed. For 20 years during the mid-1800s, he turned a stinking, medieval, war-stricken city into the clean, airy, bright, and modern one the world knows today. LaFarge, tracing a lavish, labyrinthine plot that begins with a lost manuscript in the Bibliotheque Nationale, details those years through the eyes of Madeleine, a poor orphan with noble pretensions, who eventually becomes Haussmann's mistress. LaFarge chronicles not only the elegance of Emperor Napoleon III's court but also the squalor of public life and the machinations of the poor. The beauty of Paris seems to mask its moral corruption, and it is that, perhaps above all, that Haussmann regrets at his end. LaFarge's highly original, sociohistorical novel has all the underpinnings of a Dickensian yarn, but its world is observed with the humorous eye of an amused gossip. Just delightful. Michael SpinellaCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved