Timothy Schaffert comes to the blog with a story of the ‘hidden’ resistance movement in Paris during the war with
The Perfume Thief
Clementine was born on a small farm in the Midwest, but never quite fit: from her hand-me-down boys’ clothes trimmed in lace to her apparent invisibility in the eyes of her neighbors and the church women who frequented her childhood home to bestow ‘goodness and generosity’ upon her family, she’s always been different. Moving out as soon as feasible, she travelled the Midwest taking on work (and learning skills) that would benefit her in the future. Her future was as a con-woman: substituting cheap ingredients for expensive ones in perfumes, learning to maintain her invisibility in order to procure rare items (or pass them along) to wealthy clients. Only ever truly falling in love not long after her arrival in New York, she still, all these years later, holds a flame for M, and the skills taught at their hand.
Now during the German Occupation of Paris, Clementine has a ‘charge’ in Blue – a young man who arrived to ‘learn’ in the house she occupies but finds far different. Her best friend Day Shabille (note the play on words) a cabaret singer and an ex-Pat, and several connections throughout the city that allow her to continue her perfume crafting and move throughout the world, mostly unseen. But the arrival of a new chanteuse on the scene, and an introduction from Day puts Clem in the Nazi’s sights. Zoe Angel is young, beautiful and the toast of the town, also ‘kept’ by an officer in the penthouse suite over the most popular (and protected) bordello in town. Zoe has secrets, but she must trust in Clem and her cleverness to keep them and see a way to save them all.
With a dangerous plan hatched to inveigle her way into the trust of Voss, an officer in charge of ‘valuing and cataloging’ the ‘finds’ as the Reich loots Paris homes and displaces its Jewish population: Clem uses her skills, alternately charming and being charmed by Voss who, to all appearances at first, is a Francophile and interested only in the beautiful things. Twisty and turny – this small community of the displaced: gay, lesbian, not quite sure they are either (as Clementine often repeats) actors, jazz lovers, artistes and simple people are determined to provide some level of difficulty to the occupiers: despite the many dangers to themselves.
What Schaffert has done has provided a story of identity and beauty during a time when everything (and everyone) was determined to stay invisible and unnoticed, even the greyness of the buildings and the weather were welcome – where little moments of satisfaction and even a basic happiness were to be carefully guarded, hidden and savored lest they be snatched away. While we all know of the more ‘apparent’ French Resistance movements and are aware of the undercurrent of fear in the general population of the city – this story and the writing provide us a low-level yet constant wakefulness and watchfulness, as the people highlighted within are all anathemas to the rhetoric, moral tone and taste of the occupying Nazis – at least in public. A lovely read that creeps up on you – takes time to develop until you are alongside and watching each moment, breath held until the conclusion.
Title: The Perfume Thief
Author: Timothy Schaffert
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction /Historical Setting, European History, Friendship, Grief, Historic Elements, Interracial, LGBTQ, Older Heroine / Hero, Romantic Elements, Setting: France, Sociological Relevancy, Suspense Elements
Published by: Doubleday Books
Published on: 3 August, 2021
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Audio Length: 14 Hours: 36 minutes
Get Your Copy: Amazon ♦ Barnes&Noble ♦ iTunes ♦ Kobo ♦ Downpour ♦ IndieBound ♦ Book Depository ♦ Google ♦Audible ♦Direct from Publisher
A LOS ANGELES TIMES TOP 10 BEST BOOK OF THE SUMMER
A Gentleman in Moscow meets “Moulin Rouge” in this stylish, sexy page-turner set in Paris on the eve of World War II, where Clementine, a queer American ex-pat and notorious thief, is drawn out of retirement and into one last scam when the Nazis invade,
Clementine is a seventy-two year-old reformed con artist with a penchant for impeccably tailored suits. Her life of crime has led her from the uber-wealthy perfume junkies of belle epoque Manhattan, to the scented butterflies of Costa Rica, to the spice markets of Marrakech, and finally the bordellos of Paris, where she settles down in 1930 and opens a shop bottling her favorite extracts for the ladies of the cabarets.
Now it’s 1941 and Clem’s favorite haunt, Madame Boulette’s, is crawling with Nazis, while Clem’s people–the outsiders, the artists, and the hustlers who used to call it home–are disappearing. Clem’s first instinct is to go to ground–it’s a frigid Paris winter and she’s too old to put up a fight. But when the cabaret’s prize songbird, Zoe St. Angel, recruits Clem to steal the recipe book of a now-missing famous Parisian perfumer, she can’t say no. Her mark is Oskar Voss, a Francophile Nazi bureaucrat, who wants the book and Clem’s expertise to himself. Hoping to buy the time and trust she needs to pull off her scheme, Clem settles on a novel strategy: Telling Voss the truth about the life and loves she came to Paris to escape.
Complete with romance, espionage, champagne towers, and haute couture, this full-tilt sensory experience is a dazzling portrait of the underground resistance of twentieth-century Paris and a passionate love letter to the power of beauty and community in the face of insidious hate.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.