My first read for our Paris in July event this year has been Paris, Rue des Martyrs by one of our event co-hosts, Adria Cimino. Adria is an American writer living in Paris and I will be posting an author interview with her later in the month but for now, my thoughts on Paris, Rue des Martyrs…
I have only visited Paris once in my life (hence the reason I need to have lots of virtual trips through Paris in July!) and have not been to the area described so well in Adria’s novel. Rue des Martyrs, according to ParisInfo has “all the extravagant charm and colour of the 18th arrondissement on a single street!” and Adria’s novel certainly brings this character and charm to life through the myriad of characters in her novel. I felt like I had taken a seat in a Parisian cafe, I just had to sit back, drink my cafe au lait and watch the drama unfold in front of me!
Each chapter of the novel is told from the perspective of one of the main characters – all people who live on , or come to visit, Rue des Martyrs. Rafael, a young man from Columbia seeking the truth about his family of origin, Cecile, a married mother of two who is doubting her relationships, her place in the world and even herself, Andre, an actor well past his prime according to the critics and his own mind and Mira, a young Italian woman who has escaped to Paris after a betrayal from those closest to her. There is something a reader can relate to with each of these characters and those surrounding them – they are common, every day issues and dilemmas that we, or someone close to us, might have experienced and in this way the book is easy to read and engage with. I especially loved the ways in which the characters were connected – it reminded me a lot of one of my favourite Robert Altman films, Short Cuts – just when you think you have a character figured out another link is discovered that can show them in another light.
The setting also plays an important role as a character in its own right and while the issues brought about in the book are certainly universal I definitely think that having the book set in this particular area of Paris adds something to the tension, drama and atmosphere.
I am so looking forward to talking with Adria further about her writing process and her inspiration for the novel later in the month but for now you can always read Paris, Rue des Martyrs for yourself. Adria has very kindly provided us with a reading guide/discussion questions for the book which I have added below (these would be perfect for book groups). Happy reading everyone!
1. The presentation of Paris and the neighborhood where the story takes place isn’t the image that tourists usually see… What does Paris represent for each character? How does living in Paris affect each character’s personal journey/quest?
2. More precisely, much of the novel unfolds on a street called the “Rue des Martyrs,” which literally mean “Martyrs Street.” Do certain characters in this novel see themselves as martyrs in their daily lives? How so?
3. How important is setting in this novel? Could these entwining stories take place anywhere, or in any city? Why or why not? Is “Paris, Rue des Martyrs” an allegory of city life? Why or why not?
4. True or False: “Paris, Rue des Martyrs” is a love story. Explain why or why not.
5. The novel is about encounters that “make a difference.” Discuss how encounters help each character in his or her quest.
6. “Paris, Rue des Martyrs” presents issues including adultery, abandonment, pride and loyalty. What role have these issues played in the characters’ lives?
7. Rafael remembers his father’s words: “Never be afraid, his father had hissed into his ear on that first trip for emeralds.” What are Rafael’s fears as an adult? Is he able to conquer them and how?
8. Cecile has many of the material elements that might make one happy, yet she is bored and dissatisfied. What is missing from her life? How does her view of Septime evolve as the story progresses? How does her view of herself change?
9. Cecile struggles with parenthood not because her daughter it difficult but because she is so “perfect.” Why does this perfection bother Cecile so much?
10. What does Hugo represent for Andre? Does Andre view him as a mirror of himself or someone completely foreign?
11. “Sadness gripped Andre’s heart each time he thought about the boy, but he had never let it win him over.” – Why wouldn’t Andre let it win him over and go back to June and his son? Does he truly regret his decision at a certain point?
12. How has the stage made Andre’s life both wonderful and miserable?
13. Mira is at first intimidated by the thought of seeing her brother again… What realizations does she make about him as the novel progresses?
14. How is Mira able to maintain stability and strength as she faces betrayal? Is the key faith in herself or support from Hugo?
Adria J. Cimino worked as a journalist for more than a decade at news organizations including the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. Adria, who grew up in the sunshine, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida. She now lives in Paris and enjoys sharing her adventures in the city and thoughts about the writing life in her blog “Adria in Paris.” “Paris, Rue des Martyrs” is her first novel.