A Few Streets, A Few Lives
Unique book about the Left Bank and five generations of a family - all of whom left their footprints in the same narrow streets, and all of whom found refuge and rejuvenation in Paris.
This unique and intensely involving book evokes the texture and atmosphere of a hidden Paris which has survived against all the odds of time and chance. Gillian Tindall is well known for her ability to breathe a passionate life into the generations of those who have walked this earth before us. Here, using a handful of lives and a specific location to exemplify 200 years of history, she focuses on a few of the oldest streets in Paris’s Latin Quarter. Her study shows how Paris has drawn into its magnetic field people who have variously found there education or enlightenment, a refuge or a secret garden, even a different identity. Half a dozen individuals, all related in some way, reveal a web of human feeling and experiences across two centuries. There is the young doctor who walked all the way from Edinburgh to Paris at the time of Napoleon’s downfall; the self-made Victorian businessman who traded with the brash capital of the Second Empire; his reserved son who found in the old stones of Paris a refuge from his fraught childhood; Maud, the archetypal English spinster, who somehow managed to construct an alternative existence in Paris; and Julia, young and desperate, who found her own unlikely salvation there in a very different era.
Readers will become familiar with the texture of the Left Bank – its network of streets, its hotels and courtyards, churches,hospices and bookshops. Here is the resonance of ‘Bohemia’ with its students and artists, garrets and cafés, and ‘Gay Paree’ with its music halls and courtesans. Here is Marat murdered in his bath; Haussmann driving boulevards through medieval alleys in order to create the ideal city; chroniclers of Paris such as Zola, George du Maurier and Orwell. But featured far more than the famous are the unsung citizens for whom Gillian Tindall has such empathy.
“It's a fascinating walking tour of old Paris, studded with humour and sympathetic glimpses into several lives that have resisted the microscope of history”
Tim Martin, Telegraph
“The book's true strength lies in its writer's abiding, for-better-for-worse attachment to her city of the heart”
Jonathan Keates, Sunday Telegraph
“Tindall's alertness to detail and brimming intelligence are consistently engaging”
Frances Spalding, The Independent
“delightful book invites reflection, speculation, argument, and almost every page also summons memories”
Allan Massie, Literary Review
“Tindall... can create vivid portraits out of a few misty pixels”
Graham Robb, Sunday Times
“An enterprise of formidable research and enviable lightness of touch.”
Anita Brookner, The Spectator
“Charming disinterment of a lost 19th - and 20th -century Paris...An antidote to the history of great men and events”
The Guardian Saturday Review, SUMMER READS
“This book is a personal memoir, a history of the left bank of Paris and an endlessly compelling tale of a family who lived in and out of Paris through two centuries of war, conflict and great politics...Nostalgia is of course a key trope in Parisian history and this book, richly textured and beautifully written, is a wonderful addition to that canon”
Andrew Hussey, History Today
“Tindall writes of a lost Paris with a quiet eloquence that is all her own, combining scrupulous honesty with a compassionate imagination and an eye for memorable detail”
Miranda Seymour, The Guardian