“A beautiful and elegant account of an ordinary man’s unexpected and reluctant descent into heroism during the second world war.” –Malcolm Gladwell
Since Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favorite authors, I was particularly attracted to THE PARIS ARCHITECT, though I am a little burned out on all the World War II novels as of late. This story is from the point of view of a French architect who participates in the war effort in a very creative way, designing elaborate hideaways for Jews and taking pleasure in outwitting the Gestapo.
This is Charles Belfoure’s debut novel, and he tells a compelling story rich in architectural details. (He is an architect by profession, specializing in historic preservation.) I enjoyed the author’s unique perspective and his explanation of stereotypical French values (or lack thereof) regarding mistresses, traitors, and wartime courage. While Belfoure displayed a convincing knowledge of European architecture and gave an interesting historical context for architect Lucien Bernard to demonstrate his talents, I found the characters to be a little too cookie cutter good/evil for my tastes. An experienced novelist paints a picture and allows the reader to draw his/her own conclusions about morality, but Belfoure too often spelled out the obvious, taking a character from anti-Semitic philandering mercenary to courageous humanitarian. “He thought he didn’t have it in him to help another human being. But to his great surprise, he did. He was proud of it. And he had proved his father wrong.”
Despite the somewhat amateurish portrayal of characters, the unique story line more than carried the novel, and I found it to be quite a page-turner. Belfoure is not of Ken Follett caliber, but the two authors do have similar styles. Fans of historical fiction and suspense will find THE PARIS ARCHITECT a satisfying and entertaining read.