Saturday, April 2, 2011

Recommended read: 13, rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro

Trevor Stratton, an American professor and translator in Paris, finds a box containing old photographs and keepsakes in a cabinet in his office at the university. Unbeknownst to him, his office assistant Josianne placed it there, selecting him as the recipient, after having tried the same experiment with other professors who took little interest in the mementos. Trevor becomes obsessed with the old box, diligently studying its contents, translating the letters, and attempting to piece together the history of its owner, Louise Brunet. Because Trevor is spending so much time thinking about the mysteries of the letters and photographs, he creates his own narrative of Louise's life, using the photographs, keepsakes, and letters as glimpses into her life and relationships. We read the love letters from her cousin Camille, who her father forbade her to marry, fighting in the war. We view photographs of Louise's father, one from his youth and the other as an older man. We even see Louise's white communion gloves. Since scans of the items from Louise's box, in addition to Trevor's translations, are shown in the book, readers may attempt to decipher their histories just like Trevor.

I was drawn to read this book because of its unique concept, which originated from the author's own life. Growing up, she lived on 13 rue Thérèse in the same building as a woman named Louise Brunet. When Louise died, she had no known relatives to collect her things, so other people living in the building were able to take what they wanted from her apartment; Shapiro's mother took the box of mementos. 13, rue Thérèse was a very enjoyable read. Shapiro's style of writing is quite poetic, and I often re-read certain passages because of her distinctive way with description. I look forward to more from this author in the future.

Find it in the catalog!