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Likely Stories: Haunting Paris by Mamta Chaudhry

Eerie story of a woman searching for clues to her husband’s intentions.

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

An eerie coincidence led me to Mamta Chaudhry’s novel, Haunting Paris.  As I read, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned in a horrible conflagration.  I have traveled to Paris a number of times, and the cathedral on the river Seine was always an important stop.  Chaudhry’s fiction, poetry, and feature articles have been published widely.  Much of her professional career has taken her from Calcutta to Miami, to Dallas.  She currently lives with her husband in Coral Gables, Florida, and they spend part of each year in India and France.  Haunting Paris is her first novel.

Mamta’s story begins, “They call us revenants, those who return.  Restless in this world, we pass each other in mute recognition, for to be silent and solitary is our essential condition.  But each death doesn’t end out thirst for a human touch, a human voice calling our name” (1).  This start to the story is more than enough to keep me riveted all the way to the end.

Julien and Isabelle Dalsace lived an idyllic life in Paris.  Sylvie is a young pianist invited to entertain gathered family and friends.  “Sylvie, too, is thinking of that dinner in the distant past.  She hasn’t set foot inside the house on rue de Bièvre for thirty years, but she’s convinced it remains just as she remembers, the celadon walls, the priceless tapestries, the mirror frames dulled to a soft gold, everything lustrous yet muted by the patina of time.  The dinner invitation was an unexpected kindness, she was only the piano teacher, after all.  She had worn her good black dress and arrived much too early to find Madame Dalsace putting peonies in a vase. Isabelle looked startled and asked Sylvie to excuse her for a moment while she gave the maid some last-minutes instructions” (19).

Julien falls in love with Sylvie and leaves Isabelle.  The story alternates Between Sylvie and Julien.  Julien’s contribution is an obsession for Sylvie, and she loves him dearly.  Julien muses, “But I do not believe in an enduring and intertwined life greater than the little lives we lead, so small, so separate.  Like the island I love, once a spit of land fit only for grazing cows and fighting duels.  A bridge is all it took to create this storied isle, where monied Rothschilds opened their doors, where penniless writers wrote their books, where Marie Curie worked on the radiation that saved countless lives but claimed her own.  On this side, Chopin played and Wagner composed, Baudelaire and Gautier and Voltaire wrote, Daubigny, Corot, and Chagall painted, Camille Claudel chiseled her way to madness, and thousands of ordinary people lived and loved and died, their names obliterated by time.  All on one small island in but one city.  How much more the world” (61).

A large part of my admiration for this novel are the numerous references to writers, poets, artists, as well as paintings, sculptures, and drawing.  I also enjoyed the scattering of words in French, which with the help of a dictionary brought back memories of my trips to the “Îsle de la Cité.”  If you have ever traveled to Paris—or if you have never been there, Mamta Chaudhry has written a story that will carry you back to that storied “City of Lights.”  5 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.