The Paris Architect
During the French Occupation, Lucien Bernard, a gifted, ambitious, unemployed, 35-year-old Parisian architect, despite his best attempts to remain uninvolved in the war, finds himself living a dangerously duplicitous life, engaged to design arsenals for the Reich, and on the other hand, accepting secret commissions by a prospective wealthy client who intends to use Lucien’s unique architectural talents to build structures for concealing Jews from the Germans. That story concept, in itself, truly compelled me to read this book.
One of Lucien’s impressively designed hiding spots was in a Parisian mansion, an architectural column in plain sight that opened with hinges. All his designs are proven to the test and those moments are particularly gripping. Lucian lives in terror, afraid of the Gestapo for aiding Jews, afraid of the French Resistance for collaborating with the enemy. Lucien ultimately takes risks he never suspected he would be capable of, and in the process, develops surprising friendships with different people on both sides of the horrific conflicts of World War II.
The author, Charles Belfoure, happens to be an American architect and historian, adding authenticity to the story’s architectural details. I understand he got the idea for the book from the true story of Nicholas Owen, a Jesuit lay brother who devoted the greater part of his life to constructing hiding places to protect the lives of persecuted Catholic priests during the reign of England’s Elizabeth I.
I highly recommend adding this novel to your holocaust novel list. This one challenges moral fiber, balancing brutality with bravery, illuminating the worst of inhumanity and the best of humanity.
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Review by Carol McFadden, Children’s Services