The Paris Bookseller is a historical fiction that tells the story of the iconic bookstore Shakespeare and Company in the city of Paris. It is an excellent read for those who love books and bookstores. In particular, it is something to relate to for those who have seen the store as it exists now.
Released in 2022, the book is about Sylvia Beach, a young woman, a book lover with a dream and how she turns that dream into reality. Not only does she turn her dream into reality, but she does much more. She acquires name and fame and becomes a force to reckon with in a city that is not the city of her birth. She does this in a French country though she is an American.
While describing Sylvia’s journey, the author also gives the reader a peek into the Parisian society of the 1920s and 30s; a society that was way ahead of all the Western cultures of that time.
Sylvia decides to set up a store devoted to selling and lending English books. It is like a counterpart to what her partner Adrienne is doing for the French-speaking people. With time her store becomes a hub for literary and artistic interactions, with names like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scot Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein becoming her patrons. A milestone in her journey is her decision to help James Joyce publish his controversial book Ulysses which no one else wants to do. She manages to do it but at a tremendous financial and emotional cost. A determined woman, she supports him all the way, much to the dismay of her partner Adrienne.
The author, through this narrative, brings out the transformative power of books; how they can transform people, lives and relationships. Books bring Sylvia and Adrienne together, paving the way for a successful and fruitful association.
Ever since I got to know about the book through Instagram, I had been waiting for it. So, therefore, the moment it arrived at the bookstores, I grabbed my copy. One of the main reasons was that I, too, have a dream of opening my bookstore at some point in life. That’s why all books about bookstores are a natural read for me. And then, if the bookstore is located in one of my favourite cities, there is no way that I am going to miss reading the book.
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I found Sylvia’s journey from the inception of the idea to its fructification extremely fascinating. There are several other reasons too why this book worked for me.
I love the fact that the book reinforces the fact that if one is determined, one can do anything in life. Support will come your way from unexpected quarters to help you realise your dreams which in Sylvia’s case was her mother, to begin with, and then strangers.
The book touches upon various issues that are as true today as they were then, a hundred years ago. For instance, a large part of the book is about the importance of relationships and the various stages they go through. Then it also talks about the struggle women face to make themselves heard.
Also, books with an epilogue always appeal to me. It is as though the epilogue satisfies a reader’s curiosity about what happens to the characters once the story comes to an end. So, in this case, the epilogue talks about the characters’ lives after 1936, which is when the book ends.
However, if you are not fascinated by the idea of reading physical books and everything else associated with them, you may not enjoy the book so much. It is about those times when bookstores were the only way to access books. And books were the only way to take care of the habit of reading—no audiobooks or e-books.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and finished it in two days. The book is an excellent take on people, their emotions, the relationships they get into, and the ups and downs they face. It has several life lessons for the reader. It brings out that though we may be living in different times, certain things have not changed; people, their insecurities, relationships and their fragile nature.
The book is an excellent tribute to Sylvia, Shakespeare and Company and Ulysses, and I give it a 5/5 rating.
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The book comes with a strong message. It says that you can realise your dreams provided you put in the right amount of hard work, dedication, persistence and determination.
Quote from the book
“Famous people, they were not born so. One always begins by being unknown.”