Before the rebuilt broad boulevards of Paris earned it the name “City of Light”, there were the narrow, often dark cobblestone streets of a city recently emerged from medieval times. A city where an ancestral home was exactly that, a place where generations of one family were born, lived, loved, and died; a place where familial sorrows and disputes became entangled with the happiness and joys of those who lived within. While most people see a house as a place of transience there are those to whom a house is so much more; they may even look upon it as having a life of its own.
Such is the Bazelet House on the rue Childebert and these are the feeling of Rose Bazelet, the last proprietress of the house, who promises her husband Armand, on his deathbed, to protect the house from the wrecking ball.
When the Prefect at the direction of Emperor Napoleon cuts through the city, destroying entire neighborhoods in the name of progress, Rose and her neighbors fight back. But their protests fall on deaf ears. In the end, rue Childebert is destroyed and everyone relocates, except Rose. Outwardly she appears to relocate but moves to a secret cellar beneath the house. During her furtive stay there, surrounded by her precious letters from Armand and others, a treasured set of books, and several candles for illumination Rose recalls her life in Bazelet House via a series of letters to her beloved late husband; in so doing she gives up a secret that she has harbored in her heart for thirty years. In a bittersweet ending Rose finds peace.
Like Rose Bazelet, this reader has had similar emotions when leaving a long-time residence. That last walk through empty rooms, recalling past events, is the closing of one chapter before moving on to the next. Unlike Rose, my former residences still stand, however.
From the opening lines, the reader is drawn into the neighborhood surrounding the Church of Saint Germain and the vibrant personalities who live and thrive there. They will soon become the reader’s friends. The blossoming romance of Rose and Armand, their steadfast love, is epic. Brilliantly detailed and documented, this is an enduring story of life and death, love and hate, war and peace. It is “the story of [a] house and its inhabitants” that “will remain forever”. “We lived here, and despite the snares that destiny threw our way, we were happy here. And no one, mark my works, no one can ever take that away from us.” Highly recommended.
Rating: 5 stars