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The Crazy Years: Paris in the Twenties Paperback – May, 1990
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Top Customer Reviews
The book does an amazing job of reconstructing Paris of the 1920s, in my opinion, and I am an amateur historian on the era, having read countless books on this magical time and place.
It touches base on all the major events of the era, and many of the minor, with an eye toward the crazy, the wacky, the hopelessly mad and romantic people and events of the area. It is, all at once, a treatise on the geography, politics, art, literature, music, history, and a Who's Who of Paris at the time, with properly historical context given. It begins with an insane president and the romantic, almost cliche, deaths of Modigliani and his lover. But it really happened. A lot of what you read in this book you can hardly believe happened. But it was a different time, a different era - in many ways sadder and more repressive, in other ways the books conveyes an almost impossible (in this modern world) feeling of freedom and anything being possible, at a time when a seeming majority of the world's brilliant and uninhibited minds were all gathered in one place to live the wild life of the bohemian intellectual for relatively cheaply, but where death was also sadly just around the corner in many cases.
This book covers it all - from Nancy Cunard, Kiki of Montparnasse, Man Ray, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach, Hemingway, the Faulkners, Josephine Baker, Charles Lindbergh's grand triumph, Picasso, Isadora, Coco Chanel, the Crosbys, Hart Crane, e.e. cummings, Jean Cocteau, Samuel Beckett, Dos Passos, Virgil Thomson, and more, so many more, virtually anyone who was anyone at the time. The themes it covers range from the music of Paris, the wave of Russian immigrantion (most fascinating), lesbianism, the effect of rich Americans on Paris, and many others.
Even if you're not a huge fan of 1920s Paris like I am this book is a must-read, just for the sheer humanness and drama of humanity that it has to tell. The tale of Harry and Caresse Crosby is nothing short of riveting. Rock stars did not live lives so bizarre and excessive as these two did. The story of the death of Modigliani and his lover was sad and poignant; the deaths of Katherine Mansfield and Raymond Radiguet, and the horrifying death of Isadora Duncan remind us how frail life was at this time, but oh, how brilliantly it could shine. The tale of the insane French president Paul Deschanel was almost too much to be believed and oddly appropriate. The story of e.e. cummings' lost prostitute love was also an enchanting one. To have lived in such a way! The story of the artists' colony known as the Hive is one of my favorites. Read it!
This book needs to be read just for the breadth of the stories, to hear how people, extraordinary and ordinary, lived their lives in the past. The book ends appropriately with the stock market crash and an epilogue bringing us back to the time when the book was written (more than 3 decades ago as I write this), reminding us, that while much of the magic of Paris is gone (most "artists" of the day in Paris would have no experience of dirt-low rents, the sheer variety of down-and-out, wildly impossible characters that would have been priced and swept out of modern Paris, or the absent gas lights, 19th century areas left untouched, or the vacated Les Halles market) there still remains much magic left in the City of Light. Recommended to everyone reading this review.
The author documents the invasion of Paris by the wealthy and talented, many of whom are Americans but artisans from Russia, Spain, Ireland, and other countries move among them. Whether flush with money or struggling to stay afloat, many go from party to party. Liquor flows freely and the Americans spend, spend, spend. Eventually, the French become fed up with it all but Lindbergh redeems the American image when he arrives and the crash of 1929 changes it all. This is a light read but most interesting with its tales of the relationships that flowered and waned among those who lived in Paris during this decade.