Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure

Image from Charles Belfoure

Author Charles Belfoure has used his architectural training and knowledge to construct a tense and gripping tale of a man caught up in the bizarre milieu of wartime Paris.

In the Nazi occupied city, "normal" life goes on. But loyalties are divided; deception and betrayal are commonplace. After his return from the Maginot Line, Lucien Bernard is broke and  unemployed when a strange opportunity comes his way. Now he can use his architectural creativity to earn enough to escape his embarrassing dependence on his wife.

Reluctantly, he agrees to accept a single secret and dangerous but well-paid commission. However, the job turns out to be just the initial step in a series of life-altering decisions that take him ever further along a dangerous knife edge.

Lucien changes as he is drawn deeper into matters he would have infinitely preferred to avoid. Initially a vain and conventional man, he begins to undergo a spiritual transformation when he comes face to face with the consequences of failure at what he's been telling himself is simply a game of architectural cat and mouse he's been playing against the Gestapo.

Squeezed from all sides by his Nazi colleagues, the unnamed Jews he's been helping to hide, and a pair of ruffians from the French resistance, Lucien is even called upon to help destroy his own creation. He agrees to this, as he has accepted other terrible necessities. Such is the cost of his growing identity as a righteous man. No longer motivated by greed, pleasure and vanity, the Paris architect now consciously chooses to risk his life "because it [is] the right thing to do."

As his situation shifts and changes, Lucien's wife leaves him, as does his mistress. When he falls for Bette, a fashion designer, at first he simply hopes the "lucky break" of meeting her can "take his mind off his problems...like a sword of Damocles hanging by a thread above his head, ready to drop at any second." But their involvement proves deep and satisfying. For the first time, Lucien experiences a profound connection with a woman he respects. The lovers are now allies, and with help from an unexpected quarter, they decide to leave Paris and cross the border into Switzerland with the three Jewish orphans they've been hiding. The big question is whether they'll manage to escape in time.

(Sourcebooks: Napierville, Illinois, 2013)

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