A Corner in the Marais: Memoir of a Paris Neighborhood

Overview

For anyone who loves paris and the mysterious allure of old houses, this charming and informative memoir is perfect reading. In a knowledgeable, conversational style that conveys (and makes contagious) Karmel's love of his subject, A Corner in the Marais traces the architectural and social development of the City of Lights from its origins as a Roman settlement, through major redevelopments brought about by Henri IV and Baron Haussmann, to the present renovation of old neighborhoods. It begins with Alex Karmel ...
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Overview

For anyone who loves paris and the mysterious allure of old houses, this charming and informative memoir is perfect reading. In a knowledgeable, conversational style that conveys (and makes contagious) Karmel's love of his subject, A Corner in the Marais traces the architectural and social development of the City of Lights from its origins as a Roman settlement, through major redevelopments brought about by Henri IV and Baron Haussmann, to the present renovation of old neighborhoods. It begins with Alex Karmel and his French wife realizing a longstanding dream: buying an apartment in the Marais, Paris's celebrated historic district, the site of some of its oldest and most picturesque buildings. It soon becomes clear that their new home, which has witnessed six centuries of French life, offers a fresh and lively vantage point from which to view the city's history, revealing information that will surprise even the most confirmed Francophile.

The book concludes with a "walking tour" of the Marais, in which the principal buildings are discussed with brisk authority. Karmel never loses sight of the fascinating human details -- whether royal feuding, commercial advantage, or family chicanery -- that have played their role in shaping Paris as we now know it. Illustrated throughout with photographs and period engravings, A Corner in the Marais is ideal reading for anyone who loves exploring the hidden byways of vieux Paris and experiencing history from a very personal viewpoint.

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Editorial Reviews

Daneet Steffens
[C]harming. . .whether Karmel is singing the praises of the Place des Voges or the flamboyant Gothic house in which Brigitte Bardot once lived.
Entertainment Weekly
Nina Sonenberg
Karmel illuminates shadows of French history, architecture, even character and theatre with a novelist's knack for detail and an architect's eye for stories in stone. -- New York Times Book Review
Renee Winegarten
This charming bookwith its stress on...the "ordinary" people overlooked by history as well as some of the giftedtakes its place in the considerable library of works whose non-French authors have been enamored of Paris....[T]his small bookthough not intended as a mere guidewill surely prove an extremely agreeable companion to all explorers of the Marais. —The New Criterion
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
There is a self-indulgent charm about this mini-history of the Marais (former marshes), corresponding to Paris' third arrondissement, that is hard to resist. Karmel, who fell in love with the city in his teens and later married a Frenchwoman, owns a fifth-floor walk-up in the Marais at the corner of rue des Rosiers and rue Vieille-du-Temple. He invites us to share his delight in the neighborhood and his delving into its history. But despite his affection for the Marais and his elegant, leisured prose, this is not a book for the armchair traveler. You have to be there with this slim, illustrated volume in hand. Turning the pages, you could stroll past the house where Beaumarchais wrote 'The Marriage of Figaro' or visit the Museum of the History of Paris in the Hotel Carnavalet, knowing that the greatest literary gossip of all France, Madame de Savign, made it her home. The area has gone through a number of misguided attempts at modernization, the author reports, but a combination of chance and economics has preserved its character and some of its great mansions. In the end, the reader is left with envy for anyone with a pied terre in such a wonderful place and a feeling that the narrow streets remain just out of reach.
Library Journal
The shelf of fond American memoirs of Paris might seem overcrowded, but for those with a weakness for the place, there's always room for more. Karmel has written a part-memoir that is really the history of the charming walk-up he and his French wife bought in Paris' Marais district in 1982. 'I have centered this memoir on a specific building,' he writes, 'and built the history of the neighborhood (and to some extent, the city) from the standpoint of that one spot.' That spot in the Marais ('swamp') is the constant -- through plagues, Terrors, and architectural adjustments, from Roman settlement to jazz cellars. For all its history, though, Karmel's (My Revolution) elegant, brief volume resembles a deeply researched, digressive travel guide. It might have been better had Karmel interspersed his own personal account of life in postwar Paris with the less evocative chapters on French history. -- Nathan Ward
--Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle
Renee Winegarten
This charming book, with its stress on...the "ordinary" people overlooked by history as well as some of the gifted, takes its place in the considerable library of works whose non-French authors have been enamored of Paris....[T]his small book, though not intended as a mere guide, will surely prove an extremely agreeable companion to all explorers of the Marais.
— The New Criterion
Kirkus Reviews
A brief and impressionistic memoir that ultimately disappoints. Considering the momentous events swirling in and around the Marais district of Paris, this proves to be a surprisingly lifeless history. Karmel is the author of two previous works on the French Revolution (My Revolution; Guillotine in the Wings), and has lived in Paris for the past seven years. The book begins with a charming episode from the author's youth: his first visit to, departure from, and return to the City of Lights. No one who has ever been to Paris can fail to empathize here; common memories will unite reader and author. But the promising beginning fades into a mere chronicle, rather than lived history. Even the recounting of a terrorist attack on the very same day as he and his wife move into an apartment is told in dry, unemotional tones that miss the obvious opportunity for dramatic evocation. In the author's defense, he has claimed to have written neither a guidebook (although it is fairly good as one) nor a complete history. Instead, this is purely a microhistory. Karmel tells the tale of a particular house and district in intimate detail, using both as prisms to illuminate the larger canvas of Parisian and French history. The reader, though, may soon grow impatient with the minutiae of house contracts, legal deeds, and minor restorations. Notwithstanding revolutions, fires, and incompetent administrators, a house built in the 13th century leaves an extraordinary paper trail, all too diligently examined by the author. In the end, one feels curiously detached, though still pining for a home of one's own just about anywhere in Paris.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781567921984
  • Publisher: Godine, David R. Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/28/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 1,461,539
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 8.96 (h) x 0.23 (d)

Table of Contents

Foreword ix
"The Last Time I Saw Paris" 3
The Past... 39
An Auction 75
...To the Present 95
Neighbors 115
Appendix "Le Marais" by Leon-Paul Fargue (excerpts) 147
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 19, 2010

    Sheer enchantment

    An enchanting volume, from the extraordinary endpapers (at least in the hardcover edition, haven't seen the paperback yet) which are old style maps with every building, courtyard and garden drawn in miniature to the fascinating text. A book you can open anywhere and fall into delight.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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