Book Review

Haunting Paris by Mamta Chaudhry

Historical Fiction Author Mamta Chaudhry says Haunting Paris is a love letter to the city.

It is not a Happy Valentine à la Woody Allen, but a complex, intimate and heartbreaking portrayal of
Sylvie and Julien, whose love and story exist across time and space. Mamta Chaudhry’s style is
lyrical; her portraits are authentic, and her writing is meticulous and poetic.

As a French reader, I enjoyed the author’s ease with the French language and culture and appreciated her attempt to avoid most stereotypes.

Haunting Paris is a complex, multi-layered, imaginative story, but its structure sometimes feels too intricate. The sense of place is omnipresent in the description of Île Saint-Louis’s streets and courtyards, where many aspire to live, and only a few are chosen. This love song to the heart of Paris is complete with starry-eyed American professors on their summer break.

1989, from Sylvie’s light and music-filled apartment on Quai d’Anjou back in time to the
Vélodrome d’ Hiver in 1942, Julien’s ghost now accompanies her as he observes from a silent
distance. Why a ghost? Perhaps because their love persists beyond death, and their story is far from finished.

Haunting Paris tells of a dark period of France’s recent past, the Second World War, the
collaboration of the Petain regime with the Nazi occupiers and the “Rafle du Vélodrome d ‘Hiver.” on July 16 and 17, 1942 – The Roundup of the Winter Velodrome – Of the 13,152 Jews arrested and detained before being deported to the death camps, none of the 4,115 children survived.

did they give the enemy even more than they had asked for? For the love of God, why hand
over the children?”

Mamta Chaudhry

I was born in France only ten years later.
Growing up, we heard family stories of the Vichy regime, the Gestapo’s terrifying arrests and summary executions, food rations and hunger, the black market and people profiteering, women sleeping with the enemy to be later publically shaved in shame, petty denunciations and collabos turned résistants de la dernière heure.

And we children heard of the Maquis’ armed resistance. Of course, people chose to remember the heroes
rather than the traitors. It took at least one decade before people could begin to tell and others
to listen to the horror of what had happened as we read accounts such as Se Questo E Un
by Primo Levi. In the Summer of 2022, France commemorated la rafle du Vel d’Hiv with
numerous films, documentaries and testimonies. Today, every high school student learns about
it, the country’s collaboration and its resistance.

Still, we must stay vigilant.

I also wondered why a woman from Calcutta, living in Miami without any Jewish family ties,
would write about Paris and the Holocaust, Mamta Chaudhry answered at the presentation of her book in Sarasota, Florida.

Her parents were forcefully removed from their native land in the northwest of India and sent into exile during India’s independence wars. In 1947 the continent was divided to create Pakistan and separate Hindus and Muslims. Millions were displaced, hundreds of thousands were killed, religious tensions have never truly diminished, and inter-communal violence regularly flares up.

Sometimes, writing about grief and pain from an emotional distance is more manageable.
In writing about Paris and the Holocaust, Mamta Chaudhry may have explored her ancestral
and historical story of loss and allowed some of her ghosts to rest in peace.

Haunting Paris by Mamtra Chaudhry is a fine debut novel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

I agree to these terms.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.