A Citizen of the Country

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An eccentric Count who runs a famous Paris horror theatre, cursed with unexpected death . . . A beautiful young heiress and aspiring leading lady who just might be involved in the dark arts . . . An enigmatic gentleman whose shadowed past will at last be exposed. Their fates and hidden agendas intertwine in Sarah Smith’s compelling novel of an ancient house, dark arts, and love gone wrong–a murderous tale ...

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Overview

An eccentric Count who runs a famous Paris horror theatre, cursed with unexpected death . . . A beautiful young heiress and aspiring leading lady who just might be involved in the dark arts . . . An enigmatic gentleman whose shadowed past will at last be exposed. Their fates and hidden agendas intertwine in Sarah Smith’s compelling novel of an ancient house, dark arts, and love gone wrong–a murderous tale unfolding in the shadow of the guillotine. . . .

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Set within both the city of Paris and mysterious fictional Montfort Castle in Flanders on the eve of WWI, this stylish and literate historical drama rings down the curtain on Smith's popular trilogy (The Vanished Child; The Knowledge of Water) that illuminates society in early 20th-century France. Dark snatches of memory still trouble Alexander Reisden, director of Jouvet Medical Analyses, an eminent Parisian mental health clinic. Did he murder his grandfather? Is he the heir to an American fortune? As war threatens, Reisden's personal troubles are pushed into the background. On the verge of procuring an important contract with the French army for the mental competency testing of soldiers, he learns that former military hero Maurice Cyron stands in his way. Cyron, who intended a military future for his stepson, Andr , the count of Montfort, blames Reisden for encouraging Andr 's theatrical bent. Fascinated by death (for reasons Smith eventually reveals), Andr channels his dark thoughts into his work at the Grand Necropolitan Theatre, where he is driven to act out his obsessions. Though recently married, he ignores his seductive wife, Sabina, and accuses her of trying to poison him. While struggling to appease Cyron and help Andr , Reisden strives to satisfy his own wife, Perdita, a legally blind concert pianist who wants to resurrect her career with a trip to America, where she hopes to compel Reisden to come to terms with his past. When Andr and Cyron join forces to make a military film on the grounds of Montfort Castle in Arras, with Reisden's participation, Smith ratchets up the tension. In addition to providing fascinating background on early filmmaking, the author adds French military secrets, murder, blackmail and witchcraft. Though the buildup to the revelation of Reisden's dilemma seems unnecessarily complicated, readers will care about the splendidly realized characters, whose fates are decided in an eminently satisfying conclusion. Agent, Jane Otte. 3-city author tour. (Aug.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Now that he and his concert pianist wife have a young son of their own, physician Alexander von Reisden wants more than ever to wipe out a past full of hidden identity, tangled relationships, and murder, but a dangerous blackmailer forces him to confront his demons and accept himself and a family relationship he has tried desperately to forget. The trouble starts when von Reisen is forced to take on the case of the deeply disturbed Andr du Monde, sponsor of the Grand Necropolitan Theater, whose ghoulish productions feature his young wife. Smith's concluding volume to her "Vanished Child" trilogy, set in a bellicose France on the brink of World War I, is a murky and sinister tangle of political and domestic intrigue, witchcraft, and murder. It will resonate more with readers familiar with The Vanished Child (LJ 2/1/92) and The Knowledge of Water (LJ 8/96), but it offers compelling reading for everyone. Highly recommended.--Cynthia Johnson, Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, MA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Vanessa Friedman
Though full of authentic detail, this isn't a typical "history novel," but rather a proof that certain human conditions-the public and private face of heroism, the complicated love we feel for family-are the same no matter the century.
Entertainment Weekly
Kirkus Reviews
The conclusion to Smith's neo-Victorian trilogy (The Vanished Child, 1992; The Knowledge of Water, 1996) is a virtuosic fusion of speculative history, boldly stylized character drawing, and intricately plotted rousing melodrama. The action takes place in 1911 in Paris and the Flanders countryside (and, briefly, in America). Physician Alexander von Reisden, who heads the underfunded Jouvet medical research institute, is pressured to cure deeply disturbed André du Monde, Count of Montfort and owner of (as well as writer-performer for) the Grand Necropolitan Theater, whose horrific productions seem extrusions of André's own dark psyche—by the Count's wealthy stepfather Maurice Cyron, a potential contributor to France's desired military buildup in anticipation of a forthcoming German invasion. Complicated, n'est-ce pas ? Not really—at least until André's ambitious production of Citizen Mabet, a Gallic silent film version of Macbeth, encounters various problems, leading its star, André's wife Sabine (who dabbles in witchcraft and appears to have taken a demon lover), to agree only reluctantly to a scene involving a "working guillotine." Only a sadist on a par with a very executioner would reveal the subtly enfolded details of Smith's dazzling plot. Suffice it to say that it involves "the secret of Montfort" (the castle where filming occurs), persistent rumors (spread by Hungarian blackmailer Ferenc Gehazy) that the embattled Reisden (already known to us as a child murderer) may have been a German secret agent, and the multiple tensions that almost destroy Alexander's happy marriage tothetrilogy's estimable heroine, blind concert pianist Perdita Halley—whose climactic outburst "oh, my goodness, Alexander, orgies and curses? It just isn't believable" understates the case beautifully. All is unraveled quite logically by the eye-popping resolution, which evokes fond memories of Poe, Agatha Christie, Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, and Polanski's Chinatown, among other expertly assimilated influences. Fiction just doesn't get any more entertaining and satisfying than this. A bloody triumph.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345433022
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/1/2000
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.58 (w) x 9.57 (h) x 1.37 (d)

Meet the Author

Sarah Smith has lived in Japan, London, and Paris. A Harvard Ph.D., she is a former film teacher with a special love for the early films she evokes in this book. She is also the author of the New York Times Notable Books The Vanished Child and The Knowledge of Water. She lives near Boston, Massachusetts, with her husband, two teenagers, and two cats. She is Webmaster for the Mystery Writers of America.

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Read an Excerpt

How do you tell your baby you have committed murder?        

Murder didn't define Alexander Reisden any more. He had got over being
guilty of it (got over, he thought, as one might get over a heavy cold);
he was well, more or less. But in his work, he saw how murder affects
families. It is a disease, claiming victim after victim. And Toby was so
little, and Toby's fingers, with the perfect little nails, grasped his
father's thumb so trustingly; and Reisden adored his baby boy; and
someday, some terrible day, Toby would know.

Toby might forgive him, might perfectly understand. But how would it
affect him?

Reisden had committed his murder at eight years old. He had had excuses;
it had been necessary; but no one knows that when he is eight years old.
Toby would learn, but Reisden desperately wanted to save him from it until
he was much older than eight.

This was morbid. Toby was only seven and a half months old. You could have
held him up and said into his face "Your papa killed his grandfather," and he would only have giggled and tried to grab your nose.

He wanted, really, never to tell Toby anything, never to let anyone tell
Toby; he wanted Toby never to hear about mad William Knight or William's
grandson or the horrors that can happen to children. He wanted to keep his
boy safe.

There is a story like this, about loving parents and a curse and all the
spindles in a kingdom, but Reisden didn't know it. He only knew a father
is supposed to protect his child.
So should a mother, Reisden reflected, and Perdita wasn't protect-
ingToby.

The first thing she'd said after Toby was born was how glad Gilbert would
be. She wrote to Gilbert every week. She sent news of Toby,
pictures of Toby, a curl of Toby's baby hair bound with thread. Don't,
Reisden thought silently, my G-d, don't curse Toby with Gilbert Knight.
Gilbert had the discretion to keep away, but Perdita insisted on writing.
Reisden snapped at her about her eyesight, which was not fair. Perdita
insisted on going out in the Paris streets with nothing but Toby and her
white cane. "Let him go with his nurse."

"But I like getting out," she said mildly, "and I must learn the streets."

"Not with him."

"Don't you believe I would be careful, Alexander?"

He did not believe it. She was not careful. She could see only colors and
shadows; she could push Toby's pram out into the street, not seeing the
bus or the horse that would kill them both. He could feel the impact in
his own flesh. He was terrified for his son; sometime, somehow, something
terrible would happen to his son.

She is risky, he thought once of the intelligent, stubborn, beautiful girl
he had loved before she had become his son's mother. It saddened him. He
loved her.

This was morbidity too; this, he thought, was perhaps murder itself, the
slow death that murder leaves in families.

"Are you afraid for your children?" he asked other fathers. Yes, they
said, of course they were.

It was as close as Reisden could come to talking about what was wrong with
his family.

Financial security, at least, one can give.

General Lucien PÈtiot looked like Father Christmas in a sky blue uniform;
he had a cloud white beard and twinkling blue eyes and was in charge of
procurement (Medical Section) for the French army. General PÈtiot bought
miles of bandages, barrels of mercurochrome, trainloads of cough
pastilles—and tests for the French army. Intelligence tests, tests of
mental competence; every man in France served three years in uniform, and
the army needed to identify potential officers and potential problems.

They had just decided to centralize.

Reisden's company, Jouvet Medical Analyses, did competency testing for the
courts and specialized neurological testing for hospitals all over Europe.
Jouvet could administer Berthet's intelligence test to large groups. In
September 1910, just after Toby was born, Reisden first approached PÈtiot.
"We want to supply medical tests and neurological work to the army."

"You're an ambitious man."

"I have a son."

For six months the men ate lunches and dinners together, spent
afternoons talking about the state of medicine in France, traded opinions,
deplored the government, and tested each other. PÈtiot toured Jouvet's
half-completed building, under reconstruction after the Paris floods. "You
want the money," PÈtiot said, admiring the expensive new lab. "I want the
job," Reisden said. "Let me talk to your staff," PÈtiot said. Through the
winter, PÈtiot became as familiar at Jouvet as the concierge's cat, poking
his nose into staff meetings, sniffing at a technician's bench, hovering
outside the locked door of the famous Jouvet medical archives.

On a cold day at the beginning of April, PÈtiot came to Reisden's office
at Jouvet and dropped his bomb.

"There's only one trouble with Jouvet's proposal, Reisden: it's you. Your
background."

They were sitting on packed boxes of books in the middle of chaos, the
wallpaper half up, the paneling still tacky with varnish, the air damp
with the smell of wet plaster.

"This is a bad time politically," PÈtiot said. "Germany threatens us, with
Spain and Austria-Hungary behind her; the French army is small and
underprepared; and at that very moment, the most intelligent of von
Loewenstein's Orphans decides he wants to throw in his lot with us. One
wonders what you mean by it. Isn't that what Leo von Loewenstein used to
say?"

"The Orphans are a myth."

"A myth, oh dear, yes," said PÈtiot. "But one of the mythical Orphans owns
a French company that does medical analysis, of a kind that would give it
access to embarrassing information about army men, government officials."
PÈtiot frowned. "Certain people are very distressed."


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Reading Group Guide

1. At the beginning of this novel, Alexander announces his distrust of Perdita, his blind and "risky" wife. Do you think he truly learns to trust and accept her? Why or why not?

2. Perdita has sacrificed a great deal in the name of her family. Does Alexander truly appreciate the extent of her sacrifices? Can Perdita reconcile herself to these sacrifices and move forward?

3. Will Perdita ever think of Paris as home?

4. Alexander and Andre are both struggling to find their home in the world. How do you define home?

5. This novel opens with a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke: "We are born, so to speak, provisionally, it doesn't matter where. It is only gradually that we compose within ourselves our true place of origin." Do you agree? Or do you think we are prisoners of our past?

6. Alexander and Gilbert are both haunted by William Knight. Do you think they finally manage to exorcise his ghost?

7. Alexander tells Perdita, "I am sorry. I am more than you bargained for." Have you ever felt this way? How did you deal with it?

8. After overhearing Perdita tell their son his secrets, Alexander vows to teach his son "that one can be wrong without being vile and right without being God." What has Alexander finally learned?

9. The families in this novel have been fractured and reconstituted in many different ways--death, adoption, rediscovery. How do you de-fine family?

10. Do you think Toby will have the happy family that his parents and uncle want so desperately for him?

11. Andre is very cruel to a wife who truly loves him. What do you think of Andre's treatment of Sabine?Does she deserve it?

12. What do you make of Sabine? Is she a monster or a spoiled child or a gifted witch?

13. Why did Andre's mother make that fateful final decision?

14. Will Andre be able to carry on with his role as Necrosar at the Grand Necropolitan? Or has the reckoning with his past robbed him of the need and ability to be Necrosar?

15. How do you define a citizen of a country? Is it based purely on legal documentation?

16. Cyron has become a national hero and symbol, but at what cost?

17. What do you think Cyron's intentions were when Alexander confronted him in his office? Do you think Cyron would have shot Alexander if Gilbert had not intervened?

18. Many characters in this novel are forced to choose between their personal lives and their duty to their nation. Under what circumstances does duty to country supercede duty to family and vice versa?

19. Did you figure out the secret of Montfort?

20. One reviewer has commented, "Smith defines even her minor characters clearly and crisply." Which of the minor characters was most memorable for you?

21. When this novel ends, the outbreak of World War I is only a few years away. What do you imagine will be the fate of these characters in the midst of this devastating war?

22. This novel is the concluding volume in a trilogy. Have you read the other novels? How does this one compare? If not, do you plan to read the other volumes?

23. Overall, how does your group rate this novel? How does it compare with other works your book group has read?

24. What is your group reading next? How do you decide what books to read?

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Superior literary mystery

    There is a dark foreboding of change is in the air, leaving a state of uneasiness settling throughout Europe in 1911. To restrain Germany, France and Russia have formed an alliance. However, Germany will go to any length to destroy that pact. The enigmatic Baron Alexander Von Reisden owns the very advanced mental institution, Jouvet. Though Alexander is running from his own past, his patient files contains information that would shatter the Franco-Russian agreement. <P> As valuable as that data seems, the Germans seek something else at this moment. At Montfort Manor in Northeast France, the owner, a war hero, is doing extensive remodeling. The Germans want to know what secrets are being concealed beneath the walls of the chatelaine. They try to blackmail Alex into obtaining the buried 'treasures'. Alex will do whatever he needs to do to fulfill his role in destiny. <P>Although A CITIZEN OF THE COUNTRY is the final volume of a historical fiction trilogy (see THE VANISHED CHILD and KNOWLEDGE OF WATER), the novel remains an excellent stand-alone tale. The story line combines suspense, character analysis, and drama into an exciting thriller. Cast members from the previous stories return as more of their personal histories are revealed and the author provides hints as to their futures. As with her first two novels, Sarah Smith has written a notable book that will provide her much acclaim. <P>Harriet Klausner

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