A young man arrives in Paris seeking respite from his grief, surrounding himself in the solitude of an attic flat loaned from a friend. Alongside him, his neighbours are happy and unhappy, they are getting by, they are lying to loved ones, lying to themselves. These Dividing Walls by Fran Cooper is a multi-layered story of microcosm and macrocosm, of an apartment block in Paris and its inhabitants, of city-wide anti-immigrant protests.
A wave of racist violence enters the centre of Paris and the unfolding events are told through the lives of the residents at Number 37. Their lives converge and depart from each other, some are socially-minded, others watch from behind curtains. The young mother stretched so thin in the care of her three young children that she fears she will break. The banker who lost his job but is too ashamed to tell his wife. The homeless man who sleeps in a doorway on the street nearby. The silver-haired seller of art books who mourns her dead son. A young couple, new residents at Number 37, lock their door and turn off the television. The lives of all these people are affected by the xenophobic hatred which enters their street.
These Dividing Walls is at once a tender story and a violent one. Cooper writes with a love for Paris, a city she knows well, and this knowledge is in every sentence. A fond familiarity with Paris shines off every page, gently done, without shouting. The best book I have read this year.
‘These Dividing Walls’ by Fran Cooper [UK: Hodder & Stoughton] Buy now
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