Young Sylvia Beach has always dreamt of writing books, but soon she must recognise that writing isn’t hers. When in Paris, the American meets Susanne and Adrienne who run a bookshop and she is immediately fascinated by them. She decides to open a bookshop herself to provide Paris and its masses of expatriates with English books. A risky adventure in 1919, but her small store „Shakespeare and Company“ is going to make history. Not only do the Roaring Twenties make Paris the centre of the literary world, the bookshop and Sylvia become its very own epicentre and when she comes across an extraordinary novel nobody wants to publish, she decides to do it herself thus making James Joyce and his „Ulysses“ one of the greatest novels of the century.
Kerri Maher tells the story of a young and adventurous woman who follows her instincts and is willing to risk a lot to make her dreams come true. “The Paris Bookseller” portrays an outstanding personality whose strong character can be felt in every line of the novel. On the other hand, the novel is a remarkable depiction of misogynist behaviour in the literary world and, on the other, also of strong women who can accomplish a lot when working together.
I totally adored following Sylvia’s way from naive American tourist to one of the most important characters in the literary world between the wars. Surely Paris was the place to be and she was there at the right time, but also her endeavour and spirit were decisive to make it the best known bookstore in the world.
I wasn’t aware of how hostile towards women the time and publishing industry was, quite interestingly, it wasn’t people like Hemingway of whom I could have easily expected such a behaviour, quite the opposite, the educated and seemingly decent people were the most abominable.
A great read which gives insight in a time already a century ago and most certainly a must read for all booklovers of classics and the great time a century ago.
What can a daughter learn from her mother? Four generations of women of one family suffer from their respective mother’s way of life, the choices they made and the future they planned for their kids. The first generation is embodied by Caresse Crosby, Harry Crosby’s wife, a young American who freed herself from Puritan Bostonian convictions and was looking for freedom and a life for the arts in Europe. Her daughter Diana grows up in Paris between all the famous people of the so called “Lost Generation” and never had to chance to just be a girl, too much was projected in her. Diana’s daughters Elena and Leonie found ways of opposing their mother by opting for very traditional models of love and life. Elena’s young children, one even unborn, are now the fourth generation who grows up with a heavy legacy.
The novel oscillates between times and places. We meet the Parisian It-crowd of the twenties when Caresse and Harry have their big time and Diana is just a girl. Then we jump to Caresse’s last days in Italy, decades after she has lost her husband and when her grand-daughters are already grown-up women. Another 20 years on, Diana’s life is coming to an end. Yet, no matter what point in time in general or in the characters’ life, the core question is always the same: what do you expect from life and how much love do you need?
Alternating the setting surely makes the novel lively, on the other hand, the development of the characters suffers from this non-linear or non-chronological arrangement. Even though you can make out especially Diana’s development, her daughters, for example, remained a bit a mystery for me. What I found intriguing, however, was the highly complex mother-daughter relationship which becomes very clear in every constellation: on the one hand, unconditional love and the hope that the daughter can break away from conventions and find love and happiness in life, on the other hand, the fact that they cannot live up to their own ideals and that wishes are not fulfilled makes them also reproachful and mean in their later life.
It is quite interesting to see that the author Tamara Colchester herself is a descendant of this family. This raises the question of how much fiction and how much reality you can find in the text. No matter the answer, it’s a novel about strong women and the choices we make in our lives.