Paris on the Brink – an historical account of 1930s Paris

Paris on the Brink – an historical account of 1930s Paris. 

Mary McAuliffe’s 2018 book, Paris on the Brink: The 1930s Paris of Jean Renoir, Salvado Dali, Simone de Beauvoir, Andre Gide, Sylvia Beach, Leon Blum, and Their Friends is an easy-to-read historical account of Paris. Long title, but it is a well-structured book with chapters that, fortunately, have shorter titles. 

The book begins with ‘End of an Era’ – the ending of the 1920s with the Wall Street Stock Exchange Crash of 1929, sending many Americans in Paris back home.

The 1930s was the decade before the Second World War and the instability of the civil war in Spain. McAuliffe describes Paris as a cultural centre where life goes on amid uncertainty in Europe. There are chapters such as ‘It Could Never Happen Here’ and ‘Navigating a Dangerous World’ as well as ‘Taking Sides’ and ‘Coming Apart.’

There is a cast of characters — real people of the time—from writers Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Satre, and Gertrude Stein to scientist Marie Curie, artist Pablo Picasso, and fashion designer Coco Chanel. 

The last chapter and the epilogue are interesting — they discuss the locations where people scattered to when they evacuated Paris. Some were resistors and some were collaborators. Some stayed ‘out of sight’ in France, while many left the country. Some were interrogated and some were imprisoned. 

Due to the great number of creatives and intellectuals mentioned in this book, they are not discussed in detail – rather, they are the ‘collective creatives.’ The book is more about the time than the fame, and more about the politics than the individual. 

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