Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Blog Tour: Review of THE PARIS ARCHITECT by Charles Belfoure

Author: Charles Belfoure
Released Date:October 8, 2013
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Edition: e-book, 384 pages
Genre: historical fiction, suspense, World War II
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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"...an architect looks at a space differently from the rest of us. The average person sees a room as it is, but instinctively the architect envisions how it could be changed for the better.

Blurb - "Like most gentiles in Nazi-occupied Paris, architect Lucien Bernard has little empathy for the Jews. So when a wealthy industrialist offers him a large sum of money to devise secret hiding places for Jews, Lucien struggles with the choice of risking his life for a cause he doesn't really believe in. Ultimately he can't resist the challenge and begins designing expertly concealed hiding spaces—behind a painting, within a column, or inside a drainpipe—detecting possibilities invisible to the average eye. But when one of his clever hiding spaces fails horribly and the immense suffering of Jews becomes incredibly personal, he can no longer deny reality."

My review - War can bring the worst out of us and anti-Semitism is a shameful stain that will taint our modern history, indelebly. France has been the first European nation to grant civil rights to the Jewish people, but at the time of the Nazi Occupation, it was still a country of Jew haters. As it commonly happened in those dark days, gentile architect Lucien Bernard grew up in an anti-Semitic household: resentment against that ethnic group had been building since the infamous "Dreyfus Case", and escalated in pure hatred when The Reich occupied France and started the horrific ethnic cleansing. Cutting off every most basic life necessity was a way for the Germans to hold a psychological pressure on the Frenchmen, fuel their spite toward the Hebrews, isolate "the chosen people", brand them with the stigma of a yellow star of David and ultimately, after seizing all their wealth, wipe them off the face of the earth.

Hardship breeds self-interest, sets group against group, turns neighbor against neighbor, even husband against wife. Historically, it doesn't surprise that Parisians started to betray Jews to the Gestapo: Judenbegustigung, the act of aiding Jews, was considered by the Germans as the highest form of treason against The Reich, punished with torture and death.

Lucien hated the Germans, but he definitely wasn't a do-gooder, too coward to take a stand against the Nazi usurpers or even join the Resistance, too atheist to believe in the moral code of compassion and brotherhood preached by the Christians. An absolutely unlikely hero, the talented architect will end up being what the Jewish people call a "mensch", a good human being who stands up and does the right thing.

When August Manet, a wealthy industrialist contracted by the Germans to build military factories, offers Lucien a large sum of money and the promise of future design commissions in exchange for his expertise to build temporary hiding places for Jews, Lucien's immediate reaction is refusal. The self-centered architect is terrified at the idea of having the Gestapo at his door, let alone risk his life for those "money-grabbing thieves". Impoverished and ambitious, though, he won't be able to resist the lure of a good architectural challenge. 

Faux wall after faux wall, he will outwit the German police and save Jewish lives, enjoying the thrill of carrying his personal battle against the Nazis using solely his architectural ingenuity. But when one of his better crafted hiding places fails to protect two of Manet's friends, Lucien's mercenary and egotistical reasons to help the generous industrialist will change into a genuine outrage against the barbarism of The Reich and true compassion for a race that was being persecuted beyond brutality.

The author's professional background (Charles Belfoure is an architect and historic preservation expert) provides the narrative bedrock for this quite original and engrossing historical thriller. The Paris Architect is firmly anchored on real life historical events that go even beyond the faithful and accurate portrait of a 1942 German-occupied Paris. Belfoure's well conceived idea to use hiding places as a plot devise was inspired by the "priest holes", carpenter designed shelters built by Nicholas Owen in numerous manor houses throughout England, to protect Jesuit priests from Queen Elizabeth I's persecution. 

In his debut novel, Belfoure combines the suspenseful atmosphere of Spielberg's epic drama Schindler's List (although Belfour's central character lacks Oskar Schindler's intensity and emotional clarity) with the rich characterization of a WWII Paris. The abundant cultural references to landmarks and iconic figures of that era (movie stars such as Simon Signoret, Maurice Chevalier, Yves Montand, Edith Piaf, renowned artists and designers like Coco Chanel, Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier) provide a solid ground for historical verosimilitude. 

The Paris Architect is a great pick for book clubs and lovers of historical fiction. I will enjoy watching this author hone his craft and offer another intense and memorable tale. 
***E-copy graciously offered by the publisher via NetGalley in return of an unbiased and honest review

10/14 - Broken Teepee
10/21 - Mari Reads


  1. Amazing review!
    Definitely adding this book to my "to-read" list!

    1. Since you like historical it would be a great book to review for your blog, Lena! Thank you for stopping by :)

  2. Replies
    1. Grazie, Maryellen! Excellent book indeed.

  3. I loved this book, as well. I was very happy I accepted it for review.
    Great review, by the way.

    1. Thank you, Mari :) What an interesting story! I would love to read more from this author.