Like most gentiles in Nazi-occupied Paris, architect Lucien Bernard has little empathy for the Jews. So when a wealthy industrialist offers him a large sum of money to devise secret hiding places for Jews, Lucien struggles with the choice of risking his life for a cause he doesn’t really believe in. Ultimately he can’t resist the challenge and begins designing expertly concealed hiding spaces—behind a painting, within a column, or inside a drainpipe—detecting possibilities invisible to the average eye. But when one of his clever hiding spaces fails horribly and the immense suffering of Jews becomes incredibly personal, he can no longer deny reality.
From the moment I saw the haunting cover of this novel, I knew I had to read it. The small Jewish girl hiding in plain sight says so much about the work of gifted architect, Lucien Bernard, the flawed protagonist of Charles Belfoure’s THE PARIS ARCHITECT.
Lucian is fairly despicable at the start of the novel. He no longer loves his wife, he has a mistress, and he does not care about the Jews being plagued by the Nazis in occupied France. He only cares about surviving by making as much money as possible, and growing his professional reputation.
His base need for a salary involves him as an architect working for enemies in the war. On one hand, he creates ingenious hiding spaces in apartments for Jews; on the other, he designs modern factories for Germans. It is all the same to him, as long as he gets paid, until he makes a personal connection with a Jew that ends disastrously.
I asked myself many times in the reading of this novel how I could care about such a heartless protagonist, but the riveting story, my curiosity about his innovation, and my wish to see his growth compelled me forward. I’m so glad it did.
This is not an easy book to read. Belfoure is unflinching in his portrayal of the animal nature of man, and of traitors, spies, and Nazis. The darkness is balanced, however, with a growing sense of hope and redemption throughout the narrative.
Booklist compares Belfoure’s writing to Ken Follett, and that is an excellent comparison in tension, intrigue, detail, and character. If you enjoy fast paced, graphic, and fascinating historical fiction, I recommend you read THE PARIS ARCHITECT.
Charles Belfoure and I will be at the Baltimore Book Festival on Sunday, September 29th, at the George Peabody Library. I hope you’ll stop by and pick up a copy of THE PARIS ARCHITECT.