An Exploration into the Art of Being Human
October 8, 2013
A gifted architect reluctantly begins a secret life devising ingenious hiding places for Jews in Nazi-occupied Paris Like most gentiles in Nazi-occupied Paris, architect Lucien Bernard has little empathy for the Jews. So when a wealthy industrialist offers him a large sum of money to devise secret hiding places for Jews, Lucien struggles with the choice of risking his life for a cause he doesn't really believe in. Ultimately he can't resist the challenge and begins designing expertly concealed hiding spaces--behind a painting, within a column, or inside a drainpipe--detecting possibilities invisible to the average eye. But when one of his clever hiding spaces fails horribly and the immense suffering of Jews becomes incredibly personal, he can no longer deny reality. Written by an expert whose knowledge imbues every page, this story becomes more gripping with every life the architect tries to save.
With Great Talent Comes Great Responsibility
The Paris Architect follows Lucien Bernard, a talented architect living in Nazi-occupied Paris, in his journey from self-serving coward, to heroic savior and humanitarian. The novel revolves around several themes, that when looked at closely and honestly, are likely to make most readers somewhat uncomfortable. For example, how likely is it that an ordinary person will put themselves at risk to help another human being, that they do not personally know? How flexible are our morals? Would the average human being give up the secrets of a friend or associate, in order to save their own neck? These questions, and others, are taken into consideration as Lucien navigates through the Paris business world, at first chasing lucrative contracts for his own gain, and then taking increasingly risky assignments to design hiding places for Jewish escapees and refugees because he has come to see them as fellow members of the human race.
This book was hard for me to get into at first because Lucien starts out as an absolutely vile person, worthy of all the contempt you can muster for a fictional character. And the fact that he represents a very real type of historical person, makes him that much more difficult to tolerate. Additionally, the language employed by Mr. Belfoure in scenes depicting Nazi tactics and conversation regarding the Jews is historically accurate, which also makes it just that much more stomach-turning. However, as Lucien’s conscience grows, and he starts taking progressively greater risks, so grows the suspense. I found myself evolving along with Lucien, from wanting him to get caught, to hoping he would somehow make it out of danger. As far as I’m concerned, this evolution shows what a masterful story-teller Mr. Belfoure is, as he makes his readers feel exactly what he wants them to.
So, a few quick caveats. I would not recommend this for use in a high school classroom due to some graphic violence, language, and sexual encounters. However, I would recommend this book to any adult interested in architecture, the Nazi occupation of Paris, and WWII in general. It would also complement a college level literature or history class well, as a jumping off point for research into the major historical themes that are depicted, or in character evolution. Overall, this book is quite academic and thought-provoking, so I would not advise reading it unless you are prepared to really ponder on humanity….but, if you are, it’s excellent!
Note: the scene portrayed in the above gif is from the movie Schindler’s List.
Meghan is a coffee connoisseur, devoted milspouse, and exhausted momma to a three year old daughter and three dogs. She enjoys hiking, glamping, and traveling. You are mostly likely to find her reading good books in a hammock with a view of the ocean or mountains.