Good books are made for long weekends like this lovely Memorial Day weekend! One of my favorite recent reads is The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay, the author of Sarah's Key. Set in 1860s Paris, this is the story of a woman devastated by the modernization of her beloved city by Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann. We can appreciate the grand boulevards of 'modern' Paris today, but for Madame Rose Bazelet the razing of her neighborhood was a battle she'd fight till her last breath. Rose refuses to accept that her husband's family home is scheduled to be demolished to make room for a newer, wider roadway. This building on the rue Childebert means everything to Rose. It is where her husband was born, where they lived as husband and wife, where she gave birth to and raised her children, and where her dear husband died. It is her only home and leaving is not an option, even at the command of the Emperor.
I was drawn to this novel from a historical perspective. Paris is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen, and it is easy to forgot that the city we see is really quite new. The renovations made by Haussmann at the request of Napoleon III changed Paris from medieval to the beautiful, modern city we know and love today. Grand boulevards were created to improve the flow of traffic, parks and squares were added to beautify the city, and eleven suburbs were annexed. The modernization also saw the construction of sewers and fountains, improving the health and hygiene of Paris. In theory, all of these changes sound like great improvements, but they were made at the cost of neighborhoods like the one Rose so dearly loved. Rose is the heart of this story, and the tale she tells is as beautiful as it is heart-breaking. As her neighborhood is being demolished around her, she sits at her kitchen table and writes her life's story in her diary. By the final pages of the story, we understand why this home means so much to Rose, and why she will not be persuaded to see it torn down. The House I Loved is the kind of novel that lingers in your head and heart long after you've finished the last page. It will also have you looking at Paris in a new light.