Paris, 1865. In the years before and just after, a massive renovation transformed the city as modest streets, homes and businesses were torn down in favor of grand new boulevards that reshaped the city into what it is today. If you were a homeowner in the path of the renovation, there was nothing to be done, the Emperor Napoleon ordered it. 'The House I Loved' by Tatiana de Rosnay details the saga of one family’s beloved home.
The narrator and principal figure is Rose Bazelet, a sweet, gently determined woman who resolves to stay in her home no matter what. The story unfolds in the form of letters to her departed, well loved husband. “I can hear them coming up our street…a strange, ominous rumble.”
Hope springs forth every now and then as some citizens feel the Bazelet home will be spared because it is so near the church. No wonder Rose’s attachment is so strong — generations of Bazelets have lived in the house, starting in 1715.
Through her letters we learn of her life, before and after her marriage, and those of the two children she had. While she is a woman of wealth and position, the reader soon discovers that tragedies have marred her life.
Before this decree, life was most pleasant for Rose — visits to the nearby shops for flowers and marketing, and the sounds of hymns and prayers carried out of the nearby church. Friends and relatives, fountains and gardens to visit, and the horse and carriage if the distance was too far to walk.
Alexandrine,a young woman who has recently taken over a flower shop leased on the Bazelet property, quickly becomes an ally and confidante, as neighbors and friends gradually leave the area. Rose is quite alone except for a couple of allies who try to make sure her basic needs are met.
Some good things happen even in the midst of this dire situation. The owner of the local bookstore transforms Rose into an avid reader, tempting her with Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and Baudelaire’s poetry.And at one point she and those close to her join in a raucous protest over the redesign of Paris.
I won’t spoil the very end for possible readers, but they can expect a charmingly told tale of a special time in Parisian life.