Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The House I Loved (Tatiana de Rosnay)

Paris was very different before the mid-1800s than it is today. Villages existed where everyone knew each other, and houses were in the same family for decades. It wasn’t illogical that someone would be born and die of old age in the same house. Flower shops, bakeries, and restaurants existed where everyone knew your name. Then Emperor Napoleon came to power, and he wanted a very different Paris. He hired Baron Haussmann to make it into a city that would be modernized and renovated. Some Parisians agreed with the plan, but others did not, especially those who would be forced to move when streets would run right through their houses.

The House I Loved, by Tatiana de Rosnay (she of Sarah’s Key fame, my all-time-favorite book), tells the story of Rose Bazelet, a woman still grieving the death of the love of her life and her young son many years before. She has the support of her community, including her flower-shop owner friend, Alexandrine, through her grief. All of her memories are in that house, but it is one of the houses Baron Haussmann will tear down. Even though her estranged daughter is expecting her to come live with her, Rose does not leave her house. She hunkers down in the basement, with food and visits delivered from another friend, waiting for the demolition crew to come.

The House I Loved is both heartbreaking and suspenseful. de Rosnay writes beautifully with flowing language, and her books always translate well into English. While Sarah’s Key will always be my favorite, The House I Loved is a worthwhile read based on some historical fact. How far are we willing to go for modernization?