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Haussmann or the Distinction Hardcover – September 28, 2001

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (September 28, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374168334
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374168339
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #508,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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-Elys‚es 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.

From Booklist

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 Spinella
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on April 15, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Framed as a 1920s novel by an obscure French poet, based on the life of Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann, the ambitious mid-19th century Prefect of Paris, LaFarge's ("The Artist of the Missing") second book transports the reader to a cramped, unsanitary, venerable Paris in the midst of its transformation to a modern airy city of wide boulevards and functional sewers - as envisioned by Haussmann.
The narrative opens by questioning the story that on his deathbed Haussmann regretted his modernizing zeal. "Regret is a backward-turning emotion, and the Baron was famous for straightforwardness; he made the boulevards and razed the crooked lanes where tanners' sheds fronted cracked courtyards and sewer ditches spilled over into the bins of wire and paper petals of the artificial-flower makers for which the city, before his arrival on the scene, was famous."
This regret is the thread the all-but-omniscient narrator follows from the old Paris that spawned a great, clandestine love, to the ambition and modern rigidity that crushed it, leaving a bitter thirst for revenge in the ruins.
Haussmann's lover, Madeleine, was born in 1840 in the tumult and squalor of old Paris. "Born to a tanner's dying wife, she was dropped in the Bievre. There she was saved by pollution, for the river was already so laden with debris that nothing more could sink into it." Fished out by a lamplighter who encourages her to regard the mystery of her birth as a special emancipation, and later raised in a convent where the nuns suspect a noble lineage, Madeleine's discovery of her actual parentage drives her to flee into "the cool, criminal indifference of the street."
When she surfaces again, she has found refuge in the home (and arms) of M.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Having recently returned from a visit in Paris and being familiar with the city's history, it was exciting to read this historical fiction concerning Haussmann. The book flows beautifully and I found it hard to put down. The author has an enjoyable way with words and you'll find yourself quickly caught up in this triangle. (I admit to having been fooled that this was supposedly a translation of a French book written in 1922. Until I read the Amazon review, I was admiring this "older" style of writing and wishing more people wrote like this today. I'm sure the author would get a grin out of that!)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By qua on March 12, 2013
Format: Paperback
This book isn't one of my all-time favorites, but I don't particularly regret the time I spent with it. It has a very specific type of book. If you love sweeping recreations of long-past settings, you'll love this book. If you love clever humor, there's a chance you'll enjoy this. If you read books for the heart of the characters only, there are ups and downs (mostly downs). The book takes a lot of time meandering through side-notes and tangential history, which I found made this particular book lose its force in the middle, although others have cited how that was what they loved about Haussmann.

Some points about the book:

1. La Farge is clever and funny. His funny is clever. Take for example this passage on a lamplighter's hobby of peeping on nuns through the window:

"Though modest in his other tastes, Jacob has an appetite for three things, innocent enough singly, but which together constitute a vice: for lamps, for curtains, and for nuns. It's best, he thinks, bootnails clicking against the flagstones of the otherwise quiet bridge, if the light is behind the combines religion, lust, and flame, the three forces which vie--so thinks Jacob--to consume the world."

His cleverness can be too clever though. His descriptions of his characters are made in a drawling tone chockfull of hyperawareness, sometimes of irony, in their actions/thoughts/personas. I got a very good sense of who the characters are, but didn't really feel a connection to them because I was always viewing them through almost academic lenses, which is enjoyable in its own rights, but not when it's continuous with no reprieve through 370 pages of a novel.

2. What La Farge does exceptionally well is to recreate Paris at the turn of the century.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Zendegy on May 19, 2011
Format: Paperback
This book is as wonderful to listen to as to read, it seems, for that is how I experienced it. I, too, was taken in by the pretense and only realized that it is, in fact, a modern book when i read the reviews here. It is seldom, these days, that I read a book that is so beautifully written, by an author with such a love and command of language, as well as a real talent for recreating a world and its occupants. I fell in love with little Madeleine and her first love in the convent.
I know I will be looking for more books by the same hand, because this novel pulled me into its world, so that it even made its way into my dreams. What more could I ask for in a book?!
I highly recommend it!
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