Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks had been on my reading list for a year, so it was great to finally have the time to read it in September. Faulks is one of my favourite authors, as he often focuses on the two world wars through the eyes of those there at the time (see also my blogs on Where My Heart Used to Beat and A Possible Life). This novel is set around two contemporary characters in Paris, but both are drawn into uncovering the past, and particularly the role of Parisians during the Nazi occupation of Paris. This was right up my street, as I am fascinated by the complex choices that people made to survive under German occupation, having very much enjoyed reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (described in my blog Kenya Reading), All the Light We Cannot See and Citadel (see my blog on Kate Mosse).
Tariq is an illegal immigrant from Morocco, who has escaped his father and step-mother and left his girlfriend behind to travel up through France to Paris, where his dead mother was originally from. He’s come to find adventure and to perhaps find out more about his mother and to discover the city she grew up in. He works in a fried chicken shop in the Banlieue and after crashing for a few nights in a flat full of other immigrants, chance throws him into the path of Hannah. She is an American academic back in Paris, after an initial visit some years before when her heart was broken, to write a book about Parisian women under Nazi occupation.
As Hannah listens to the recorded oral histories of women’s memories of Paris in the early 1940s she realises that it is a more complex story than the one she was looking to write, as she hears some women openly discuss the choices they made to dine with German officers or to betray their French neighbours. Meanwhile, Tariq is following a mysterious old lady who seems to be the same woman photographed in one of Hannah’s source books. He walks the streets of Paris and rides the Metro, chasing the ghosts of the past that have been overlaid by modern Paris.
This is a really enjoyable read and a book I would recommend.