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Book reviews | Cybersitings | Music CD's | "On a Flying Fish" excerpt | David Applefield's interview | Ian Ayres' interview
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Book reviews


“The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown (Bantam Press, London)
Although the Paris topography of this high-flying mystico-esoteric thriller may leave many expats scratching their heads, there’s no doubt about its cliff-hanger, spell-binder efficiency which even dares to dabble in religious controversy. A gruesomely theatrical murder scene in the Louvre, full of hidden clues and meanings, is witnessed by an American professor of symbology and the granddaughter of the victim, who is a young French police cryptographer. With this singular murder, a secret cult, thousands of years old, involving past masters including Leonardo Da Vinci... is evidently on the brink of being exposed, along with its terrible and earth-shaking secrets, and the chase is on between those powers wishing to reveal those secrets to the world, and those hoping to destroy them forever. In short, Dan Brown takes the reader deep into that motherlode of mysteries — the Holy Grail Quest — and spins a tale, which has propelled this book into the ranks of this year’s biggest international bestsellers. For those readers who’d like to steal a literary step on what will undoubtably become a Harrison Ford/Hollywood blockbuster, here’s their chance. MH

“Zade” by Heather Reyes (Saqi Books, London)
Every once in a while, a first novel comes along that seems as accomplished as if its writer had long been a member of literature’s Pantheon. Here, with wit and imagination, comes alive the story of a young woman, Zade, who experiences a sort of compressed cataclysm of Love and Loss, but ultimately finds consolation via the artistic souls at Père Lachaise Cemetary. Are they figments of her imagination, or real? Indeed, this communion with the glorious ghosts of Paris Past — Molière, Delacroix, Apollinaire, Picasso, Piaf and Gertrude Stein — seems so “real” it’s as though they were alive, rendering in flesh and bone the essence of what art has to offer... to life. This is a Paris book which isn’t about living in Paris, but focuses on what the spirit of Paris is, on its timeless wisdom, and ultimately its uplifting and fathomless sources of inspiration. MH

“Where to Wear 2004 — Paris Shopping Guide” by Nicola Mitchell (Fairchild & Gallagher
This brilliantly organized directory is all a true fashionista could dream of for a credit card-abusing shopping spree in Paris. “The insider’s Fashion Bible” features reviews of clothes shops for men, women and children, as well as beauty salons, hairdressers and fitness clubs, and a useful map to get to them. Many French stores still close for lunch, so if you can’t beat them, join them! The guide also provides a list of convenient restaurants serving everything from light and casual snacks to formal meals. Jam-packed with trendy hotspots, and places to shop till you drop, “Where to wear” is the perfect shopping companion. Globetrotters will appreciate the fact that it’s available in further editions covering other style capitals including London, New York and  Los Angeles. JH

“Fatima’s Good Fortune” by Joanne and Gerry Dryansky (Miramax Books) A first novel co-signed by American expat couple Joanne and Gerry Dryansky, “Fatima’s Good Fortune” is a richly imagined fable about a young Tunisian woman who finds herself changed by her experience as a housemaid to an elderly Parisian countess. When Fatima arrives in France, she’s mourning the death of her sister and recovering from the sting of her husband’s infidelities, and Paris is a dizzying spectacle of unfamiliar customs and attitudes. The clash of cultures is a stock theme of expatriate literature, but the authors trace the protagonist’s reactions to this new world with uncommon sensitivity. In so doing, they’re able to present their own vision of this capital, delicately balancing a sense of Amélie Poulain-like enchantment with an acute awareness of the more unpleasant aspects of the immigrant experience. Fatima herself is finally such a winning combination of resilience and fragility, that we become genuinely invested in the outcome of her situation. JF

“From here, you can’t see Paris” by Michael Sanders (Bantam Books)
Les Arques is a tiny village halfway between Bordeaux and Toulouse. With a population of just over 150, the village is in decline — a victim of urban migration. So what was it exactly that persuaded Francophile and gastronomist Michael Sanders to live there, with his wife and daughter? The answer is the village’s only restaurant. Sanders sets out to explore the inner workings of a typical rural culinary establishment, along the way touching on the trials and tribulations of an American family living in France. The last chapter, on French eating etiquette, is a must-read. Be warned though — this book is guaranteed to make you feel very hungry. PM

“Your guide to the Irish pubs of Paris” by Charles Kelley and Jim Molis (Green Line Publishing)
Just in time for Saint Patrick’s Day is this guide to over 60 Irish Pubs dotted around Paris and its outskirts. Grouped by arrondissement, all of its entries include a photo and general info: the origin of the pub’s name, how to get there, when it’s open and its happy hour prices, plus... honest comments about its atmosphere, as well as the food and entertainment it provides. PM

“Van Gogh’s Ear” (French Connection Press)
“Van Gogh's Ear” will make you think twice about the definition of poetry. This third edition celebrates the diversity of Paris’ anglophone poets scene, and includes surprise celebrity contributions from Yoko Ono and Marilyn Monroe. “Van Gogh’s Ear” successfully mixes the traditional with the radical — the latter category represented by such gems as “Mirror Poem” (which requires a mirror to read) and “Poem on Black Ink” (black text on a black background). Read an interview with Ian Ayres, editor of the anthology on our website www.parisvoice.com. PM


“On a Flying Fish”
Literature is no longer promulgated by the meek, the pale, and the cloistered — the timid crabs of some wild shore. Nor is it penned in the plush bedrooms and dark parlors of a cold and distant elite. In his boldly progressive second novel, “On a Flying Fish,” Paris expat David Applefield establishes himself as the quintessential buccaneering author, marauding not only through the high seas of adventure, but also down the hard streets of literary stoicism.
At once an engrossing murder mystery and an unflinching portrait of racial injustice, this multi-layered story oscillates between two plots, from the cobbled avenues of Europe to the thick tangle of the West Indies. In Frankfurt, a disillusioned book editor struggles to publish an enigmatic manuscript, to the chagrin of a histrionic girlfriend, who pines incessantly for his attention. Meanwhile, a beleaguered writer, presumably the author of the manuscript, travels to Santa Roseau, where instead of tranquility and solitude, he discovers corruption, deceit, and injustice.

The story flashes between sequences of high drama and stark realism, between love and adventure. Yet for all its attention to plot development, suspense and intrigue, “On a Flying Fish” is, above all else, a reflection on the craft of storytelling. With a romantic cynicism that felicitously merges Faulkner and Bukowski, handsome description and sardonic wit, Applefield unravels some of the mysteries and dilemmas of writing. His analogies reflect not only a remarkable breadth of travel experience, but a lifetime study of literature. Never glib or ingratiating, the story moves through the processes of writing: the egocentricity, the obsession, the epiphany, the self-loathing, and of course, the ineffable joy of creation. A tale of many faces, “On a Flying Fish” is a beacon of hope for those of us who constantly look to the novel, not as a changeless anachronism, but as a channel of perpetual reinvention. In a word, this one — Applefield’s second — deserves the highest ranks of praise. ML

For an excerpt of On a Flying Fish and an interview with author David Applefield go to www.parisvoice.com. The book is available at leading English bookshops in Paris and www.paris-anglo.com

Reviews by Marc Heberden, Paul McNally, Jon Frosch & Joanna Hagger, Matt Langione