Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Little Paris Bookshop [Book Review for Penguin]

Nina George, prize-winning and bestselling author and journalist who published 26 novels, mysteries and science thrillers as well as over a hundred short stories and more than 600 newspaper columns, wrote The Little Paris Bookshop, first published in German as "Das Lavendelzimmer" on May 2, 2013. This newly translated German bestseller is a warmhearted, occasionally sentimental account of letting go of the old loves to make room for new. 

Set in Provence, this sensual novel deals with heartbreak, solace and the love of books. Translated into 335 languages, ranked among the top ten novels on Spiegel Magazine’s bestseller list for fiction since May 2013, and entered as well the New York Times bestseller list. 

Jean Perdu has lived in a time capsule of his own grief. Twenty-one years ago, his lover, Manon, left, leaving behind only a letter to explain herself—which Jean never opened. Ever since, Jean has devoted his life to his floating bookstore, the Literary Apothecary, a barge docked on the Seine. He can diagnose a shopper's ills (ennui, disappointment, a range of fears) and select the correct literary remedy. When heartbroken Catherine moves into his building, Jean brings her an old table and a stack of books to cure her crying. 

In the table, Catherine finds Manon's unopened letter and demands Jean read it, or she will. The two become enamored with one another, and Jean, buoyed by Catherine, finally reads Manon's letter, but the truth is heartbreaking. Manon returned to her home in Provence (and her husband—it was complicated) to succumb to an illness she had been hiding. Her last request was for Jean to visit before she died. Jean, overwhelmed this news, lifts the Literary Apothecary's anchor to finally make the journey to Manon. 

Stowed away is his neighbor Max, a young novelist running away from his fame. The two navigate the canals of France selling books for food, engaging in adventures small, large, all against the backdrop of quaint villages, and bittersweet memories. They take on some passengers: a roguish Italian who has been searching the waterways for his long-lost sweetheart; and a renowned novelist. As Jean makes his way to Manon's home (all the while writing love letters to Catherine), he prepares to ask for forgiveness—from the memory of Manon, from her husband, and from himself.

A charming novel that believes in the healing properties of fiction, romance, and a summer in the south of France. Nina George's lyrical tribute to love, literature, people, living, dying, and all things French was a privilege to read. This novel is a homage to the vanishing independent bookseller, but it is much more than that. It is a reflection on love and death and other deep subjects. It is also a love letter to France.

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