It is August 25, 1944, and Paris has been liberated from her German occupiers. The city reawakens in a frenzy of joyful celebration and anticipation of a bright new future. But the liberation of Paris will change the Brillard family more than any of them can imagine when they face that morning. While Christophe and his sister Collette join the throng of revelers below, maman Marie-Therèse watches and worries, and wonders what will come of them all. So opens Francine Thomas Howard’s Paris Noire, a moving story about love and loss set in the streets of post-war Paris.
Christophe collides with the beautiful Genvieve on the Champs-Elysees; sensing an immediate connection, he seeks her out and the two fall in love as they rediscover the sights of the city. However, Christophe grows suspicious as they continue to meet in secret. A jolting revelation, a tearful half-truth and an unexpected arrival put their budding relationship and Christophe’s life in jeopardy, and threaten to destroy his hopes for the future.
American expatriate and singer Glovia Johnson holds court in her apartment and her club, where she entertained the Nazi occupiers and collected many secrets to pass on to the Resistance. Now that Paris is free again, she has reconvened her parties of fellow expat writers, artists, and a company of black American soldiers serving with the liberation effort. Marie-Therèse finds herself unexpectedly at home in this circle, and even more unexpectedly the object of an American lieutenant’s admiration. For more years than she can remember she has been a strong and devoted mother, but she has never truly known how it feels to be seen as a woman. Can she embrace those feelings, and what Monsieur Lieutenant has to offer, or will she throw everything away to save her family?
There is far more than entangling love stories to make Paris Noire a must-read, however. Howard’s look at the American noir expatriate community in Paris is a refreshing perspective on a well-known historical period, and Marie-Therèse’s ongoing personal struggle with issues of race and bloodline affect her opinions and those of her children in interesting ways. That personal journey is critical to the story, and it is possible to trace her changes of heart as new experiences define the importance of color in her mind.
Howard’s writing style also keeps the reader from easily setting Paris Noire down. The prose is straightforward and plain, and infused with a rhythmic cadence that flows from Marie-Therèse’s native Martinique patois and the easy speech of the American expats. Though some authors’ great thoughts sink under the weight of heavy words, Howard’s thoughts soar off of the page.
Paris Noire is not a romance, or a thriller, or a historical drama. It is not a comedy or a tragedy, or a portrait of the black Parisian – well, it is not simply any of these things. It is all of these things, and so much more. I am already looking forward to picking it up for another read.
Shannon lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her fianc é and a room full of books that she peruses when she isn’t trolling Apartment Therapy for new decorating ideas. In her free time she enjoys maintaining her blog, The Writer’s Closet, planning her wedding, and baking tasty gluten-free treats.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Little Bird Publicity. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.