The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure

November 4, 2013 Book Club, Historical Fiction, World War II 33

Bonjour Bookworms,

Look at me! I read the book for Wine and Whining (one of my IRL book clubs) this month! Wahoo! I’m doing a little dance in celebration of being a responsible book club member. Today we’re going to France… During WWII. The Nazi occupation was a nasty time, y’all. We’re going to talk about The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure.

Full Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Because I do not live in a society policed by the Gestapo, I have no fear of reprisal should I have any negative commentary. Wahoo, freedom of speech!


Lucien Bernard is an architect. He lives in Paris under the Nazi occupation and lives tries to maintain something approaching a normal life. It’s tough to get a gig when your homeland is controlled by a hostile army, and money is a pretty big deal when you’ve got both a wife and a fancy mistress. Lucien starts out as a pretty big jerk. In addition to being a big fat cheater face, he’s pretty antisemitic. The Nazis are easy to pinpoint as the worst of the worst in terms of antisemitism (deservedly so, I mean, HOLOCAUST.) However, Europe (in addition to other parts of the world) have been pretty unfriendly to the Jewish people throughout history. Spanish Inquisition, anybody?

Lucien meets up with a wealthy man named Manet about a job. In exchange for putting in a good word with the Germans and getting Lucien a commission to build a factory, Manet would like Lucien to design a hiding place for Jewish refugees. Lucien is appalled, but he’s also greedy. He doesn’t care about the Jews he may be helping, he cares about money. He also cares about his ego, and likes the idea of outsmarting the Gestapo. Nobody likes having their country invaded.

As it turns out, designing hiding places is Lucien’s gateway drug into becoming a decent human being. One hiding place leads to another and another. Lucien’s cold dead heart slowly begins to thaw and he sees the plight of the Jews for what it is- a horrendous abomination that needs to be stopped.

I kind of loved this book, you guys. It reminded me a bit of Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, as it was one of the first books I read about French Jews during WWII. I have read so much about the Jews in Poland and Germany, but for some reason France’s situation came as a surprise to me. It shouldn’t have, I mean, it was OCCUPIED BY THE NAZIS. Could this war have GOTTEN any uglier? Makes me ashamed to be a human… But then I read a lovely story of redemption like The Paris Architect, and I think humanity may not completely suck.

Since we’re on the subject and there’s no lack of material, what are some of your favorite books that explore WWII? Tell me about them, Bookworms. I’d love to get some more recommendations. 

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The Paris Architect for your own collection, please consider using this link and purchasing through Book Depository. Any purchases you make garner me a small commission, the proceeds of which I fully intend to invest in the purchase of more books. 

33 Responses to “The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure”

  1. Lisa (Southern Girl Reads)

    If you enjoyed this book, you MUST read The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes!! I just read it for my book club and it was AMAZING! Its also about the German occupation of France and stolen art during that time by the Germans. i will definitely be checking this one out as well. I found your blog on Twitter and I’m glad I did!

    • Words For Worms

      Hi Lisa! Welcome!!! I read The Girl You Left Behind, and it pretty much solidified my opinion that Jojo Moyes possesses magical fairy dust that allows her to write the most engrossing books!

  2. Charleen

    Ooh, someone got CommentLuv! Fancy!

    I actually haven’t read a ton of WWII books, but of the ones I have read, I was completely blown away by The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I didn’t think I’d like it, can’t even remember why I read it in the first place (the hype, I guess, maybe…) but it really sucked me in.

    Also pretty good: Eye of the Needle. It’s about a German spy in England who finds out some pretty crucial stuff and is desperate to get the info back to Hitler, and the British intelligence agents who are desperate to find him before he does.

    • Charleen

      lol Just realized I’m being a little contradictory with my metaphors with that first book… how can it blow me away and suck me in at the same time? Apparently there are no laws of physics when it comes to literature.

    • Words For Worms

      I know, right? Look at me installing plugins. And favicons! (It’s not perfect, but it’s an improvement over the blank page, I think). The Guernsey book has been on my radar forever and a day. I need to get around to that.

  3. Wayne

    The French didn’t have such a great record in saving Jews during WW2. The film “The Sorrow and the Pity” demonstrates this well. The film shows the French people’s response to occupation as heroic, pitiable, and monstrous, sometimes all at once. Denmark had a much better record: The King there when all Danish Jews were required to wear the Star Of David in public wore one himself along with a large number of the population. Later, just about ALL Danish Jews were evacuated to Sweden and the Nazis couldn’t touch them.

    • Words For Worms

      I’m not much for films, but Lois Lowry wrote a book (it’s for middle grade readers) called Number the Stars about Jews in Denmark. It was fabulous and about helping a little girl escape the Nazis.

  4. Megan M.

    I JUST started reading The Book Thief! It’s amazing so far, obvi. I remember I loved reading Number the Stars in school and The Diary of Anne Frank.

  5. Jennine G.

    What a great review! I’ve read a few reviews of this I think and this one finally clicked. It helps to read about the same book a few times to make it click sometimes.

    I like The Book Thief for WWII books. It’s being made into a movie too!

  6. T

    Another book that has just made it onto my TBR pile. I’m waiting for it to arrive at my library…
    Have you read The Reader by Bernhard Schlink? That’s a good one.

  7. Ashley

    I just finished reading The Book Thief and thought it was amazing! Also, Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum is very good as well. It takes place in occupied Germany and is the story of a mother and daughter who live through the war. It goes back and forth between past and present so you see what the daughter’s mother had to go through to survive the occupation (and will consequently not talk to her daughter about) and how the daughter deals with her mother’s silence about the past and a disturbing part of her youth that she only remembers in bits and pieces.

  8. Shannon @ River City Reading

    I thought the story in The Paris Architect was fantastic, but was a little frustrated by the writing, which I thought could have been better. As for WWII stories, I’m in love with The Illusion of Separateness by Simon van Booy and City of Thieves by David Benioff!

  9. Monika

    I have to say, Atkinson’s Life After Life gave me some new (and exhausting) perspective on WWII London during the Blitz. I just had no idea… I definitely echo some others already mentioned, especially The Book Thief!

  10. Melinda

    Bonjour! LOVE your disclaimer, lol 🙂
    I like that you mentioned Sarah’s Key, because it’s a book I’ve wanted to read forever. Thanks for your review, I might consider this one. I love the setting – Paris 🙂

  11. Kerri

    The Lost Wife was really wonderful- and I would give The Storyteller a chance, even if you don’t love Picoult- not her typical and probably her best.

  12. RebeccaScaglione - Love at First Book

    This book sounds awesome. It’s kind of like a book version of American History X (where Edward Norton is a white supremacist who overcomes racism while working with a black man in prison). I’m a huge fan of WWII books.

    I recently read Once We Were Brothers by Ronald Balson which is a fictional story of a man who is trying to nail someone he believes was a Nazi and is now posing as a Jew.

    Also, The Sunflower is a super short nonfiction read about how Simon Weisenthal was asked by a dying Nazi for forgiveness.

    Then I just read (reviews coming soon) Maus I & II, which are graphic novels and the true story of the author’s father’s experiences during WWII and in the concentration camps.

    And I have more recs if you need them!

    • Words For Worms

      I’ve been meaning to read Maus for a long time. I think it would break me. I always check your blog for good WWII recommendations- you review them fairly regularly and always find great picks!

  13. Christy (A Good Stopping Point)

    Hm, for fiction, I saw your comment above that you haven’t read Guernsey Literary, etc. (what a terrible title to have to wrangle!), and I must second that it is a good read. Also, a main section of the book A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute takes place in World War II, but in Malaysia – so if you want to switch out of the European setting which seems to be the default for WWII novels, I would recommend that one. One of my favorite books.

    For nonfiction, I like: Defiance by Nechama Tec (set in Belarus); Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff (set in Papua New Guinea); and Here’s Your War by the great war correspondent Ernie Pyle (set in North Africa).

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