When I started reading Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop (in English), I did not know that my copy was a translation – Das Lavendelzimmer is the book’s original, German title. I found out about its origins when I was searching for a translated book to incorporate into my Reading Challenge, and since I had already started reading, it was a convenient choice.
Although the tone of The Little Paris Bookshop is melancholy, its hopeful undertones make it hard not to fall in love with the protagonist, Monsieur Perdu. A literary apothecary, Monsieur Perdu prescribes the books his customers need – whether they know they need them or not – from the inside of his bookstore barge on the Seine. When he and his young author friend decide to lift anchor and go on a journey, the real romanticism starts.
‘Kästner was one reason I called my book barge the Literary Apothecary,’ said Perdu. ‘I wanted to treat feelings that are not recognized as afflictions and are never diagnosed by doctors. All those little feelings and emotions no therapist is interested in, because they are apparently too minor and intangible. The feeling that washes over you when another summer nears its end. Or when you recognize that you haven’t got your whole life left to find out where you belong. Or the slight sense of grief when a friendship doesn’t develop as you thought, and you have to continue your search for a lifelong companion. Or those birthday morning blues. Nostalgia for the air of your childhood. Things like that.’
I don’t want to spoil too much of this book, but I will say that the journey the two embark on is one with purpose and one that is fueled by love. Along the way and in many ports, Monsieur Perdu shares his books with curious passerby, finds companionship and gets re-acquainted with old friends. There is plenty of sorrow, some hope, and the feeling that we are all right in believing that the path of life is wavy, potentially unpredictable, and that you can get more lost even when you thought you couldn’t. Sorrow and heartbreak are on almost every page, and yet the story is charming and warm and hard to put down.
To carry them within us – that is our task. We carry them all inside us, all our dead and shattered loves. Only they make us whole. If we begin to forget or cast aside those we’ve lost, then…then we are no longer present either.