Archived Reading Room

Fabulous novel is rife with words of wisdom

bookIn The Little Paris Bookshop (Crown Publishers, 2015, 400 pages), novelist Nina George, who lives in both Germany and France, has given readers a rare gem of a read.

Jean Perdu, a Paris bookseller, has spent 20 years mourning his abandonment by the woman he loved, Manon. Perdu gives the embers of his emotionally dead life to his bookshop, which floats on a barge on the Seine, and to helping others by recommending books as a physician might prescribe medicine. 

Ironically, the one person Perdu is unable to help is himself. He seems permanently ruined by the desertion of Manon, an extraordinary woman who had had loved both Perdu and her husband, Luc, a French vintner who is as far removed from Perdu’s sophisticated Parisian life as Pluto is from Earth.

This is how The Little Paris Bookshop begins. But then Jean Perdu’s angry, mourning heart is invaded by Catherine, a divorced woman living in his Parisian apartment building, and by Max Jordan, a 20-something author who has just written a best-seller and is consequently being pursued by platoons of women convinced that Max understands the female soul. 

When Catherine finds a long-unread letter Manon wrote to Perdu, a letter which demonstrates how he has so wrongly judged her, Perdu unmoors his floating bookstore and begins a journey across France in an attempt to redeem, or at least understand, his past. On his journeys, he is joined by first by Max Jordan, then by Cuneo, a wanderer also in search of love, and eventually by Samy, the woman who wrote Perdu’s favorite book, Southern Lights. To relate more details of Perdu’s story here would be to do a disservice to Nina George and her amazing book, which was, incidentally, a best-seller across Europe in the last two years.

What can be said of The Little Paris Bookshop without any spoilers are the following.

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First, it is a book of wisdom. Here, for example, is Jean Perdu speaking to Max Jordan when the young author has hit the bottom of the barrel of despair: “We cannot decide to love. We cannot compel anyone to love us. There is no secret recipe, only love itself. And we are at its mercy — there’s nothing we can do.”

And again, when Perdu encounters a woman, Ida, on his river travels. Of Ida, who has lost the “small love” of her life, Perdu thinks: “All of us preserve time. We preserve the old versions of the people who have left us. And under our skin, under the layer of wrinkles and experience and laughter, we, too, are old versions of ourselves. Directly below the surface, we are our former selves: the former child, the former lover, the former daughter.”

Nina George also equips us with defenses against death and loss. One character, who is on her deathbed, writes to her lover of her fears of dying, of her sadness at leaving him, of how he looked sleeping in bed the morning she slipped away from him. She then adds, “I envy you for all the years you still have left to live. I shall go into my last room and from there into the garden Yes, that is how it will be. I shall stride through tall, inviting French windows and straight into the sunset. And then … then I shall become light, and I can be everywhere. That would be my nature; I would be there always, every evening.”

Finally, Nina George writes here about living and the beauty of life. She reminds us of all the small pleasures of our days: the taste of an extraordinary meal or of an ordinary glass of red wine, the perfume of forests and fields at summer’s twilight, the break of the waves of the sea against our bodies. Near the end of this wonderful tale, Jean Perdu discovers these sensations, and through him George shows us how we can reconnect to the world from which we so often separate ourselves: through surrender, through love, through generosity and gratitude. She writes of Jean Perdu: “Some days, as he sat looking out to sea or reading on a wall beside the harbor, the mere warmth of the sun was enough to fill him with a pleasant, urgent, restless tension.”

In The Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George offers encouragement to those who still believe in romance, in love, in bravery. And she reminds us, too, that we can often find this encouragement in books. Near the beginning of this novel, for example, Perdu tells Max Jordan: “There are books that are suitable for a million people, others for only a hundred. There are even remedies — I mean books — that were written for one person only … A book is both medic and medicine at once. It makes a diagnosis as well as offering therapy. Putting the right novels to the appropriate ailments: that’s how I sell books.”

For all those who still believe in love but are hurt or disappointed, for all those wounded hearts looking for second chances and redemption, for all who have stumbled into the gutter but still strive to see life as a beautiful adventure, The Little Parish Bookshop is the right novel suited to the appropriate ailments. 

Highly recommended.

(Jeff Minick is a writer and teacher. His novel, Amanda Bell, is available online. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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