The Little Paris Bookshop
Nina George, trans. Simon Pare
The delightful, bittersweet international bestseller – a charming story about the distance one man will travel for the sake of love and friendship.
On a beautifully restored barge on the Seine, Jean Perdu runs a bookshop; or rather a 'literary apothecary', for this bookseller possesses a rare gift for sensing which books will soothe the troubled souls of his customers.
The only person he is unable to cure, it seems, is himself. He has nursed a broken heart ever since the night, twenty-one years ago, when the love of his life fled Paris, leaving behind a handwritten letter that he has never dared read. His memories and his love have been gathering dust - until now. The arrival of an enigmatic new neighbour in his eccentric apartment building on Rue Montagnard inspires Jean to unlock his heart, unmoor the floating bookshop and set off for Provence, in search of the past and his beloved.
Below, author Nina George tells us what inspired her to write the book.
HOW I CAME TO WRITE THE LITTLE PARIS BOOKSHOP
by NINA GEORGE
Three things happened at once just as I was about to begin researching my story in Provence. My father died. He was my best friend and a mirror of myself. I lost a disc in my neck; the pain in my nape, my back and my arm was so piercing that it nearly drove me nuts. And Jean Perdu the piano tuner vanished for a year – and reappeared as a bookseller.
When, after a year of pain and mourning, I finally dared look inside myself to see what was left of the writer I’d been and of myself, I found someone who wanted to write about something important to her, something important to me. And I feel that books are the most important thing in the world.
It is from books that humans learn to be human. They learn courage, love and compassion, and about other cultures. They learn to get angry, to behave themselves and to fight. They learn to think for themselves. Readers are the saviours of the world; they make it warm, loving, understanding, tolerant and complex. On the contrary, TV people, video gamers and non-readers make the world grey, poor, dull, simple, dumb and indifferent.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog healed me – I was finally able to weep.
Harold Fry and Smithy Ide healed me.
Anna Gavalda and Jon Stefansson healed me.
I’ve lived in books ever since I was a baby. It was only in their presence that I could find peace. I could read before I went to school, and books are my friends, my family, my exile and my love.
I think that books are about more than fame, popularity and power.
And as I began to write about those things, I suddenly saw a path leading straight to myself and to the story of Jean Perdu.
I immortalized my father as Jean Perdu’s father.
During my research I naturally went to Provence. Many of the places and a handful of the characters are real, for example in Bonnieux or Sanary-sur-Mer. I raced back and forth through the mountains of Provence at great speed, 1,000 miles, looking for places where I would feel “it”. Writing’s not just about craft; there’s also a semi-magical grey zone when the story tells me what it wants to write where, and not the other way around. I had the feeling that I’d hit exactly the right spot in Bonnieux and Sanary-sur-Mer.
Coincidentally, my husband and I came up with the initial idea for our joint crime series on that trip, in Mazan, and we invented a new detective duo of a cat and a Marseille-based narcotics agent called Jean Bagnol. So I “found” two books on that one trip – it was unplanned, and all the more thrilling for it.
Rue Montagnard doesn’t exist: I named it after a French cheese.
I came up with the idea of a ship full of books as I was sailing to New York on the Queen Mary II. It has the world’s largest floating library, containing 8,000 books. That’s how many Jean Perdu has on board his floating Literary Apothecary, the pharmacie littéraire.
Like Perdu, it was in Bonnieux that I first realized that life never ends, that we remain in everything we love. One day, after my death, I will live on in books, maybe as a full stop or a page.
The book took me two and a half years to think up, but only thirty-one days to write. And then twenty more to go through the edited version.
I’m a person who reacts strongly, but less so to words than to landscapes, the feel of a room, a town, a cemetery or a shop. I get to know a person better if I may sense them out in silence than if I just read or listen to them. It’s taken me twenty-two years of writing to understand that I need to write stories so I don’t overflow with all the sensations I absorb in passing. I am filled with the feelings of other people, unknown houses and distant lands. It’s as if I were a catalyst that converts the world into stories, and transforms into stories the emotions people can’t understand or see in themselves.
And I write to hear what I feel, to see what I think and to explore the meaning of my life – and the meaning of why we humans are as we are.
My art isn’t artful; it’s political. It may be consolation, but it may rather be the expression of the inexpressible. I am a translator of the soul.