Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: July 12, 2016
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Madeleine is trapped—by her family's expectations, by her controlling husband, and by her own fears—in an unhappy marriage and a life she never wanted. From the outside, it looks like she has everything, but on the inside, she fears she has nothing that matters. In Madeleine’s memories, her grandmother Margie is the kind of woman she should have been—elegant, reserved, perfect. But when Madeleine finds a diary detailing Margie’s bold, romantic trip to Jazz Age Paris, she meets the grandmother she never knew: a dreamer who defied her strict, staid family and spent an exhilarating summer writing in cafés, living on her own, and falling for a charismatic artist. Despite her unhappiness, when Madeleine’s marriage is threatened, she panics, escaping to her hometown and staying with her critical, disapproving mother. In that unlikely place, shaken by the revelation of a long-hidden family secret and inspired by her grandmother’s bravery, Madeleine creates her own Parisian summer—reconnecting to her love of painting, cultivating a vibrant circle of creative friends, and finding a kindred spirit in a down-to-earth chef who reminds her to feed both her body and her heart. Margie and Madeleine’s stories intertwine to explore the joys and risks of living life on our own terms, of defying the rules that hold us back from our dreams, and of becoming the people we are meant to be."Madeleine is stuck in a loveless marriage with a controlling husband. She finds herself to be not only unhappy, but she no longer paints, which is the thing that she loves the most in life. Her husband controls every aspect of her life and the worst part about it is the fact that she lets him. She escapes for a few days to her hometown to visit her mother and she comes across her grandmother's old journals. Her grandmother was a very elegant woman, the very opposite of Madeleine, but that wasn't always the case. As Madeleine reads more of her grandmother's journals, she comes to realize that her grandmother, Margie, is an unconventional woman and spent a few months living in Paris during the 20s. Margie ends up inspiring Madeleine to branch out and actually start living her life regardless of what her husband or judge-y mother thinks. The Light of Paris is a multi-generational tale about two women who learn that life is too short to try to please everyone. Margie and Madeleine learn that the time is now to start living and where better to do that than in Paris?
Madeleine's story in particular really upset me in The Light of Paris. Her husband is insufferable. He makes her feel badly about herself and I think he's mentally abusive. Even though women have come so far since the 20s, Madeleine had a lot in common with her grandmother, especially when looking at the various restrictions imposed on both women. Madeleine slowly realizes that living a life where she is unhappy is not worth it and changes need to be made. While she is spending time in her hometown, she slowly gets back to what makes her happy and reconnects with old friends as well as new friends that bring out the best in her. She even meets someone who works at a restaurant near her mother's house and he also reminds her to live her best life and to not settle for anything less. When she comes across her grandmother's journals, this also inspires her.
Speaking of Margie, her story was also similar to Madeleine's in that Margie had to fit the mold of what her parents wanted for her. Even though Margie aspired to be a writer, her parents didn't respect that decision and didn't support her dreams. Now that Margie is in her twenties and unmarried (the horror!), her parents treat her like a social piranha. So, they sent her off to chaperone her younger cousin on a trip through Europe, but plans backfire when her cousin leaves her behind with little to no money. Margie has to start over in Paris, much to her parents' upset, and makes a new and exciting life filled with a job, writing, and new friends. She even meets someone new and the course that she takes will change her life forever. The setting of Paris and the Lost Generation is a fascinating one that I truly loved.
Both Madeleine and Margie's stories were equally fascinating in The Light of Paris, which I feel like never happens when there are two different points of view. Brown wrote both stories beautifully and I loved the connection between grandmother and granddaughter. By reading about her grandmother, Madeleine comes to understand her own life and is inspired to make bold decisions. In fact, Brown was inspired by her real-life grandmother's journals from her own time in Paris!
Also, Brown writes beautifully in The Light of Paris. There were many lines that I reread and took note of as they were so, so well done. Here are two of my favorites:
"I often looked at the women around me and wondered if any of them had dreams. Of course they did - it wasn't fair of me to continue to assume they didn't just because of how they looked on the outside. it's so easy for those dreams to get run over by other people's ideas about what we should do, or to be eroded, little by little, by the day-to-day drudgery of living, or to lose heart when faced with the long, hopeless struggle between where we are and who we want to be. But I didn't want to succumb. I wanted to not go gentle into that good night, I wanted to sound my barbaric yawp, I wanted to live deliberately. And I want to know why my grandmother, after all she had done in Paris, hadn't."
"I didn't set out to lose myself. No one does, really. No one purposely swims away from the solid, forgiving anchor of their heart. We simply make the tiniest of compromises, the smallest of decisions, not realizing the way those small changes add up to something larger until we are forced, for better or worse, to face the people we have become."
If you are looking for a smart historical read this summer then I urge you to check out The Light of Paris. It had me wanting to pack my bags for Paris and spend my days drinking wine, exploring the city, writing, and talking with friends in cafes.
Thanks to Putnam, I am hosting a giveaway for a hard copy of The Light of Paris along with a fabulous book club kit that includes discussion questions, a map of notable Parisian landmarks featured in the book, and a Jazz Age cocktail recipe. It's perfect for book clubs! The giveaway is open to US readers only and the deadline is August 4th. Please refer to my giveaway rules. Good luck and thanks for visiting!
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