Parisian by Heart
My first novel, Parisian by Heart, was published in July of 2011. I started writing it in November of 2009, wrote most of it that month and then in the months following, with the help of beta readers and editors, re-wrote and polished, proofed five draft copies…my husband formatted and designed, and took the photograph for the cover. Earlier in 2011, I had submitted the work to Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award, and it reached the quarter-finals of that competition.
I have been told by those who have read it since its publication that it is a hard work to categorize, and I agree. On Amazon, I tagged it with “Marcel Proust, Paris, France, Vincent van Gogh, Charles Dickens, past lives, karma.” I would call it a work of literary fiction, as within it I tried to mix universal truths, authors and artists I revere, non-fiction memories, and time-travel. Hard to categorize is probably an understatement.
Excerpt from Parisian by Heart:
“As you can see, Madame, I am not well. Since I was eight or nine, I have been so close to death at times that my family feared they were going to lose me. The first two years of my life, I was the only child, and I was my mother’s heart’s delight. Then, when I was two, my brother was born, and my mother was no longer mine alone. And even worse, my brother was healthy and athletic and fulfilled my father’s every expectation of him. I, on the other hand, could not seem to please him in any way, although God knows I tried. My brother and I remained my parent’s only children.” He stopped here to look at me. “Same as you and your sister, non?”
“Yes”, I said, “I mean, oui.” He nodded.
“I loved my brother, but could not forgive him for having to share my mother with him. So I wrote him out of my life. I centered my life around my mother and dealing with my illnesses. It was all I had the strength for anyhow; that, and my writing.
“Our family was large and we had many other family members living around us. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins…we were all very close and spent summers together in our small village outside of Paris and the rest of the time in Paris itself. My father had his work as a doctor there, my brother and I were in school, the years went by…My brother became a doctor, like our father. For myself, when I felt well enough, I just wanted to pursue my pleasures. I adored going to the Theater, or to the Opera, or to museums…I would go to the Louvre and stand enthralled in front of Veronese’s The Wedding at Cana for hours. I did my one year of military service, and while I enjoyed the company of the other men…”
He glanced quickly at Francoise and coughed a little cough. “Well, that was not going to be for me. I got a job, just to try to please my father, at the Bibliotheque Mazarin, thinking that at least I would be immersed in literature but I just could not resign myself to being an “unpaid assistant” so I never actually went to work there. I toyed with being a museum curator, I got degrees in the law and in philosophy, but all I really wanted to do was write.
“Then, one by one, family members began to die. I lost aunts, uncles, my beloved grandmother, and then the greatest blow of all, from which I will never recover…” He covered his eyes with his hands and was silent. Francoise stood with her head bowed. After a minute or two, he spoke again. His voice was low and without emotion, as if to give any voice to his feelings would unleash a torrent that he would rather keep within. “My mother died, quite horribly, and I could do nothing but watch. My father and my brother, both doctors, could do nothing. I did not know why, or even begin to comprehend, how I could go on living myself, unless it was to somehow give testimony, through my own life and my life’s work, to her having been my mother and to have been loved and so loving to me, by me…”
He lay back again, and his breathing became shallow and labored. “I must finish quickly now. My mother, along with all the other things she gave me in life, gave me the key, albeit unwittingly, that I am about to give to you. One day, as I came home tired, dispirited and cold, for reasons that are not important now, she offered me a cup of tea and a petite madeleine to dip into it. I did not usually take tea, preferring coffee, but that day I accepted the tea and the madeleine. I dipped the madeleine in the tea. Little bits of it broke off and floated in the amber liquid. I spooned them into my mouth and was instantly transported back in time to when I was a child and would have a cup of tea and madeleines with my Aunt Leonie. There I was, sitting on the side of her bed, smelling the lime blossoms she used to make her tea and feeling the warm spring air of Combray on my face from her open window.” He looked at me out of his deep-set, dark eyes that contained an intensity within like that of a hypnotist. “Do you understand what I am saying, Madame?”
“Yes, I think so”, I said. “You experienced an “involuntary memory”, the first of several you would have, that opened up to you the realization that memories and experiences are contained within physical objects, or certain sensory events…”
“Non!” His hands flew up before his face as if he wished to shut out all sight and sound, then he slowly lowered them back onto the tray before him. “You do not understand. I physically went back in time. I became a time-traveler, not just in my mind or thoughts or memories but in my body as well.” He leaned closer to me. “Do you understand now?”
His eyes held mine for what seemed like an hour but could only have been seconds. Something flickered within me, as if a long-buried memory was trying to come to the surface, but I could not grasp it. I shook my head.”