Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Paris in the Present Tense by Mark Helprin ~ my take

Holocaust hatred ripples into present-day Paris in the life of Jules Lacour, protagonist of Mark Helprin's novel Paris in the Present Tense. Jules Lacour's story is intricately wrought. He loves deeply, loyal to his daughter and grandson and late wife's and parents' legacies. In his mid-seventies, he feels society's cruel discarding of older people, even an extraordinary cellist and musician such as himself. Lacour is a Jewish Parisian with horrific Holocaust memories that drive his present life. He may have been fighting with God his whole life, but today he has no fear; in a way, the Holocaust made him who he became.  The palpable tension I felt as his story unfolded made me wonder if perhaps the word "Tense" in the book's title has a double meaning. The ending satisfied me that both justice and love triumphed. But then, I reflected that other readers might have thought the opposite ending would also depict love and justice. A case could be made either way ...

I am glad I read this book despite the tension. And if you like stomach-knottingly suspenseful page-turners, then this book is for you! I enjoyed Helprin's colorful, insightful descriptions, though I often got bogged down in their length. And Lacour's dialogue often reads like essays or poems he might have written; in my experience, even cerebral fellows like Jules don't talk as he does in this book. If you get Paris in the Present Tense, check out Jules' description of music as the voice of God [page 88], his theory about the power of photographs [page 89] ~ both lovely ~ and his observations of landlines vs. cellphones [page 323] ~ funny.

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