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Summary and book reviews of The Paris Hours by Alex George

The Paris Hours

A Novel

by Alex George

The Paris Hours by Alex George X
The Paris Hours by Alex George
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  • Published:
    May 2020, 272 pages

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About this Book

Book Summary

Told over the course of a single day in 1927, The Paris Hours takes four ordinary people whose stories, told together, are as extraordinary as the glorious city they inhabit.

One day in the City of Light. One night in search of lost time.

Paris between the wars teems with artists, writers, and musicians, a glittering crucible of genius. But amidst the dazzling creativity of the city's most famous citizens, four regular people are each searching for something they've lost.

Camille was the maid of Marcel Proust, and she has a secret: when she was asked to burn her employer's notebooks, she saved one for herself. Now she is desperate to find it before her betrayal is revealed. Souren, an Armenian refugee, performs puppet shows for children that are nothing like the fairy tales they expect. Lovesick artist Guillaume is down on his luck and running from a debt he cannot repay―but when Gertrude Stein walks into his studio, he wonders if this is the day everything could change. And Jean-Paul is a journalist who tells other people's stories, because his own is too painful to tell. When the quartet's paths finally cross in an unforgettable climax, each discovers if they will find what they are looking for.

1
Stitches

THE ARMENIAN WORKS BY the light of a single candle. His tools lie in front of him on the table: a spool of cotton, a square of fabric, haberdasher's scissors, a needle.

The flame flickers, and shadows leap across the walls of the tiny room, dancing ghosts. Souren Balakian folds the fabric in half, checks that the edges align exactly, and then he picks up the scissors. He feels the resistance beneath his fingers as the steel blades bite into the material. He always enjoys this momentary show of defiance before he gives the gentlest of squeezes, and the scissors cut through the doubled-up fabric. He eases the blades along familiar contours, working by eye alone. He has done this so many times, on so many nights, there is no need to measure a thing. Torso, arms, neckline—this last cut wide, to accommodate the outsized head.

When he has finished, there are two identical shapes on the table in front of him. He sweeps the unused scraps of cloth onto the floor, and picks up the...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Welcome to the Reading Group Guide for The Paris Hours. Please note: In order to provide reading groups with the most informed and thought-provoking questions possible, it is necessary to reveal important aspects of the plot of this novel—as well as the ending. If you have not finished reading The Paris Hours, we respectfully suggest that you may want to wait before reviewing this guide.

  1. Of the four interwoven storylines that comprise the novel—Souren's, Guillaume's, Jean-Paul's, and Camille's—did you have a favorite? If so, why?
  2. Discuss the epigraph: "For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn't any other tale to ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Here are some of the comments posted about The Paris Hours.
You can see the full discussion here.


"The combination of first-rate mechanical engineering and such manifest uselessness strikes [Jean-Paul] as being particularly, deliciously, French." What does he mean?
It's all about the flair. I am reminded of Josephine Baker. - Muse48

"We're always gazing toward the horizon, searching for the next adventure. And those who are trapped still dream helplessly, obsessively." Do you agree? How do the characters in this novel confirm or contradict this assessment.
It seems all of the main characters are trapped in their own private worlds. Jean Paul limps around in Paris, hoping to find his daughter. Gillaume drinks and gambles to forget Suzanne. Camille is trapped in her small world, afraid someone will ... - Muse48

Discuss how each of the main characters continues to be pulled back into the past. In what ways are the characters' attempts to regain their lost paradises helpful or hurtful?
For each of the characters their past makes them who they are today. Each experienced a profound moment in their lives. Those moments culminated during that 24 hour period. They tried unsuccessfully to fix rather than accept. - veronicaj

Do you agree with Camille's assessment that Proust "was a thief, a pirate...who plundered other people's lives for his own ends." Are all writers thieves of a sort? If so, do the ends justify the means?
I agree with several of the responders. The notebook was to be destroyed, and Camille's secret would have been safe. I wonder why she did keep it. All fiction must in some part be based on real people and events in an author's life; life ... - patriciag

Do you agree with the epigraph? How does this novel carry out James Baldwin's directive?
I do. Telling our own stories and listening with respect and empathy to the stories of others is a large part of what makes us human. This novel weaves the stories of characters who must be heard. And coming to care about the characters is indeed ... - juliaa

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Paris Hours is a wonderful book. Beautifully written, full of vivid detail and likable—albeit lost and sad—characters. I was especially pleased that all four main characters' stories did not wrap up in a fancy little happy bow at the end of the book. Their pain and loss felt more real that way (Sharon P). Rarely do I say about a book 'I didn't want it to end.' That is, however, the way I felt about The Paris Hours (Julia A). Vivid and visual depictions of various scenes, be they tender or rough, are presented in a wonderful flow of poetic prose, painting a distinct image for the reader (Lorraine D)...continued

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(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

Columbia Tribune
Written as a ballad for the struggling, the seekers and the flamekeepers, The Paris Hours acutely sees and knows its characters. The book represents the most physical writing of George’s career; he captures a struggling painter as he 'sits up in his bed, his heart smashing against his ribs, his breath quick, sharp, urgent.' He writes of the absence of 'slump-shouldered mourners' in a Paris cemetery. Every knot of tension, every hunger pang — for food, for sex, for human connection — transfers to the reader.

Kirkus Reviews
George’s Proustian homage to a lost time will be a Francophile’s madeleine.

Booklist
Enchanting…Like the film Midnight in Paris…the novel has put us under the spell of the City of Light yet again…Stunning.”

Publishers Weekly
Elegant and evocative, this will have special appeal for lovers of Paris and fans of Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife.

Library Journal (starred review)
An artist, a writer, a puppeteer, and an author's intimate—the stories of these characters move back and forth in a beautiful dance. And how they come together in the final movement is très belle! George has captured the ethos of 1920s Paris with a feel similar to Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See. This title is not to be missed.

Author Blurb Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train and A Piece of the World
"George masterfully concocts a story of people seeking solace, redemption, and answers to the questions that plague them. Like All the Light We Cannot See, The Paris Hours explores the brutality of war and its lingering effects with cinematic intensity. The ending will leave you breathless.

Author Blurb Jessica Keener, author of Strangers In Budapest
A feast of the human soul. In this stunning novel, George goes behind the glitter of Paris in 1927 and takes you to the rooftops, the skinny alleyways, the flower-strewn parks, and darkened bar rooms to mine the wisdom of humanity. Beautifully rendered; gorgeously told.

Author Blurb Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club and Books for Living
The kind of novel I always dream about finding: a completely engrossing story that had me canceling plans. I read The Paris Hours without pausing, desperate to see if these marvelous characters could escape the ache of their past. And I gasped when I got to the end.

Author Blurb George Hodgman, author of Bettyville
Although Josephine Baker, Marcel Proust, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein drift along the edges of this exquisitely written, lovely jewel of a book, the characters who win our true affection are those created with appealing sympathy by George.

Author Blurb Melanie Benjamin, author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue and Mistress of the Ritz
George writes movingly of human connection, lost and found. His vivid portrayal of lives intersecting in early 20th century Paris will delight you with its lyricism and touch you with its humanity. The main protagonists are so beautifully drawn they will haunt you long after you reach the end.

Author Blurb Lauren Belfer, author of City of Light and And After the Fire
A thrilling, irresistible marvel. In lyrical prose, George weaves together memory, loss, and yearning, portraying his characters with such vivid immediacy that I could imagine myself walking beside them along the winding streets of Paris, sharing their stories. Riveting, heartbreaking, and compassionate.

Author Blurb Sarah McCoy, author of Marilla of Green Gables
A journey of memory, The Paris Hours is a sensory feast that had me gobbling pages and dreaming myself into the heyday of Paris prestige. You know a novel is great when you finish reading and wish the fiction could be true history.

Author Blurb Christopher Castellani, author of Leading Men
The Paris Hours is a kaleidoscope of a novel: intricately constructed, glittering with color and history, playful, poignant, and a joy to hold in your hands. I was transported, seduced, and ultimately moved by spending this day with George's rich and big-hearted imagination.

Author Blurb Nancy Horan, author of Loving Frank
The Paris Hours weaves together the moving tales of four disparate lives in an ending so stunning I was compelled to return to the beginning and read it again. Kudos, Alex George!

Reader Reviews

gerrie

A Day to Remember
This book is composed of brain burning, gasp inducing scenes that will stay with you forever. One day in Paris, four main characters, mystery upon mystery and it all unwinds and just when you think it's over,,,, it really isn't. The Paris Hours is ...   Read More

Katherine P

Can Anyone Move Forward After A Tragic Loss?
Come spend a day on the streets and in the bookstores and bars of Paris as four very different people try to capture what has been lost. An Armenian immigrant performing puppet shows for French children while narrating in Armenian. A wounded WW I vet...   Read More

tired bookreader

Highly Recommend
I do believe this is the first book of 2020 that rates #1. The style of the writing almost requires reading four (not too long) chapters at a time and the storyline(s) are so unique, it is a surprise to find how they connect. The choices a ...   Read More

Sooz

An Unforgettable Day in Paris
Imagine an historical novel in which you not only meet the four main protagonists but also the likes of Josephine Baker, Marcel Proust, Maurice Ravel, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. The author very cleverly weaves the lives of these celebrities...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)

Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas seated in their living room at 92 rue de FleurusA number of real historical figures play tangential roles in The Paris Hours, which is set in Paris in 1927. One of these is Gertrude Stein, a writer known for her poetry and the quasi-fictional memoir she penned about her life in Paris with her longtime partner, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933). But Stein may be even better known as a patron of artists and other writers, and the leader of a salon that served as a meeting ground for some of the most famous literary figures and artists of the time, many of them American expatriates, including Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis.

Gertrude Stein was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania in 1874, but spent the first few years of her childhood traveling around ...

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