Monday, June 17, 2013

The Paris Architect

The Paris Architect
Charles Belfoure

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure takes a new path over well-trodden ground. Set in Paris during the German occupation in World War II, the novel revolves around a young architect, Lucien Bernard, the choices he makes under pressure, and the changes he undergoes as a result.

Arrogant, selfish, and hedonistic, Lucien is recommended as architect to a wealthy industrialist, Manet. In need of work and spurred on by greed and pride, Lucien soon realises that Manet's commission has strings attached: the design of a factory for the German oppressors is tied to the creation of an ingenious hiding place for a Jewish refugee in transit.  

Justifying his actions to himself and others, Lucien quickly finds the situation spiraling out of his control. Manet cajoles him into the creation of more hiding places by tempting him with expensive gifts, holding out the promise of designing a series of armament factories for the Germans, and pandering to his ego. The money and perks are enough to keep Lucien from thinking too deeply about the consequences of his actions until the night he accidentally meets the intended occupant of one of his hiding spaces. The meeting has a profound effect on Lucien and is the pivotal moment in his character's development.

Given the harsh topic of the novel, it is a relief that Balfoure  does not dwell unnecessarily upon grisly details. However, using his sparse prose to full effect, the reader is given a reel of razor-sharp images which strike home quickly.   

The atrocities committed by the Hitler regime and the way that many stood by and watched or collaborated with them have an undying ability to shock and revolt those who are blessed to live in peacetime. The power of this book lies in its spotlight upon the differing responses when people are faced with ethical choices, the consequence of which may be death. The question that lingers at the end of the book is, "What kind of person would you turn out to be in similar circumstances?"

- Sue Warren

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