5* (out of 5*)
Ok, so as some of you know, I drew this book out of a number of potential reads on a trip to Paris recently. I’m really glad this was the book that accompanied me on the trip because not only did I stay just around the corner from Place Vendome but this was a thrilling read.
If you are looking at this book, please don’t be misguided by the cover and the publisher’s blurb – the book does reveal a great deal on Paris during the German occupation but it does not exclusively focus on the personalities of Nazi generals. Rather it is the story of hotel Ritz from its first opening to its present day – but it is told using the stories of the people who used to live, visit, dine, and run the hotel.
It is a good story made even more remarkable by well researched insights into the Ritz family, Marcel Proust, the Dreyfusards, Winston Churchill, Charles De Gaulle, Georges Mandel, Coco Chanel, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Capa, Marlene Dietrich, Ingrid Bergman, Jean Cocteau, Picasso, … and a whole band of other personalities.
Of course, as promised by the dust jacket blurb, there is abundant information on the German occupation of Paris but the book also describes the sheer incredible situation of where employees of the hotel would use their position to pass information to the resistance or organise false passports.
What surprised me most about the book was that it was written in an engaging style where each chapter dealt with a different pairing or grouping of people to tell a story, but chapter by chapter, the stories interlinked. It is really clever writing. And I guess, it is this that made it difficult for me to put the book down.
Don’t get me wrong, I did manage (just) to get some sight-seeing done, but I also looked forward at the end of the day when I could visit one or other of the places described in the book and enjoy a coffee or glass of wine whilst reading about the city.
I never made it to the Ritz, though. It’s currently being refurbished (see picture below).
And also, I’m not sure they’d admit scruffs like me.