It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that included pictures but I may start incorporating more of them into my reading repertoire after this. Whoever started the rumor that picture books were only for kids anyway? Clearly Elena Mauli Shapiro didn’t get the memo because, although this is a graphic novel, it’s not the kind for children, if you get what I mean, wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Also, how awesome is her name, the title, and this cover art? I picked this book as next on my list based on the cover alone. It wasn’t one I had previously heard about or read any reviews, but saw it on a stand in the library and it spoke to me on a couple levels. Firstly, this is exactly what I look like after a particularly strenuous soccer match. And secondly, my car is named Theresa. How could I not?
Normally when I am first alone with my next novel conquest I treat her like a lady should be treated and take the time to get to know what other authors have said about her behind her back cover, or learn more about her story from the synopsis she wears on her sleeve. I get a feel for her past through her dedication message and previous publications. I get to know her mind before I crack open her spine and devour her body. I sound like the praying mantis of books. What I don’t give a damn about is the biography of the author. What does it matter to me where this person grew up or what prestigious ivy league school they attended as long as they can keep me entertained with their words. That said, halfway through reading this book I happened to glance at the back inside jacket information About the Author and realized this is based on a true story. Or at least on a true box of someone’s belongings left behind after passing away at “13 rue Therese” in Paris, where the author happened to live as a girl. This completely changes how you read and feel about the book. Except that I still read pretty much every book in a British accent even though you can tell as early as the title on the cover that this one takes place in France. Half the novel is written in French for F sake. (Pardon my French.) But this is no longer pure fiction. This is someone’s imagination run wild while rifling through someone’s personal mementos and drawing some pretty racy conclusions from lacy gloves and love letters. I couldn’t help but wonder if someone who knew the real-life Louise Brunet has come into possession of this novel and taken offense at her being penned for immortality as a sex crazed adulterer just because some box made it seem like she lost her soul mate (aka cousin, aka disgusting) in the war and was second best-ing it with a man of her father’s approval.
For about half the book I was convinced Louise was an imaginary character full of mischief and music and someone you wanted to befriend. Granted she was pretty much made up as Ms. Shapiro knows Louise existed in name only, it somehow makes the whole experience more intimate knowing these mementos actually exist. That each one carries a story of its own. Imagine someone went through your pockets or purse at this very moment and wrote an entire book based on the findings? Mine would mostly be about lint and lip gloss, but Ms. Shapiro gave a personality and a life to a tin of trinkets and tells an amazing tale with only a few photos, letters, and coins to go on. Of course Louise couldn’t have made things easier and just left behind her diary. But this author creates fiction from artifacts using both poetry and prose, English and French, (don’t worry, the French is translated for those of us who don’t use it unless we’re singing the lyrics to a Moulin Rouge song) and intertwines a tale of love and passion with the bloodshed and tragedy of war. She pieces together sentences using Louise’s pieces of sentiment.
The author has carried around this box of souvenirs for so long that each object has become a part of her, just like one of the main characters, an American named Trevor, who is tasked with translating a record of all the findings becomes so closely entrenched in his work that he begins to pop up in the lives and deaths of these characters who existed before he was even born. Yeah, it gets weird. But good weird. Like the French.