‘Sometimes the artist you choose is yourself.'
I love stories like this one. The romantic setting of Paris, the tribute to art and history, the threads connecting past and present, the discovery of one’s true calling and the joy of finding a place to call home. It is a potent combination. “Letters from Paris” had me totally immersed and engaged in Clare’s journey!
After her mother’s death and her father’s neglect, Clare was raised by her grandmother and uncle Remy.
When Clare learns her grandmother is dying, she abruptly leaves her lucrative job in Chicago and heads back home to Louisiana to care for her.
There, she becomes reacquainted with her grandmother’s sweltering attic, a place she often found refuge as a child. Among the items she finds a mysterious sculpture, known as “L’inconnue”—or the Unknown Woman—
When she asks her grandmother about the mask, she implores Clare to visit Paris to unlock the secret behind the artist and the muse, and perhaps unlock a few secrets about herself in the process.
Ah, Paris! The most romantic city in the world! Well, for most of us anyway… but Clare is having trouble understanding the legend surrounding the city of lights, as it leaves her mostly unmoved. That is until in her search for more information about the mask she meets Armand, a fussy sculptor and artist, who invites her to help out in his shop.
Armand leads Clare to a cache of letters that could reveal who the model was for the famous mask and what secrets were behind the smile that could have rivaled the ‘Mona Lisa’.
In the height of her obsession with the mask, Clare begins to fall in love with the less traveled parts of Paris and maybe a little in love with Armand too. But, the secrets her grandmother sent her in search of seem to remain elusive.
This story is absolutely fascinating and rich in details. The secrets are expertly revealing behind a famous ‘death mask’ while weaving Clare’s self- discovery alongside it, showing the parallels and juxtapositions, all while whisking the reader away to a side of Paris we rarely hear about.
The characterizations are vivid and complex. The mystery compelling and the philosophy of art and history connects the reader to various themes such as the concept of ‘kinysugi—which treats breakage as part of history, leaving the blemish or flaw visible, not disguising it, which can be taken literally or metaphorically.
The story is also quite informative and taught me a great deal about art and history, and had me Googling artist’s names and reading about their lives and work. This book gave me a newfound respect for sculpture.
But, most of all, this romantic tale of loss, love and discovery, is about finding one’s niche’, finding the place that makes you happy and content, the place you call home.
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Key comes the story of a mysterious work of art and the woman inspired to uncover its history in the City of Light.
After surviving the accident that took her mother’s life, Claire Broussard has worked hard to escape her small Louisiana hometown. But these days she feels something is lacking. Abruptly leaving her lucrative job in Chicago, Claire returns home to care for her ailing grandmother. There, she unearths a beautiful piece of artwork that her great-grandfather sent home from Paris after World War II.
At her grandmother’s urging, Claire travels to Paris to track down the century-old mask-making atelier where the object, known only as “L’Inconnue”—or The Unknown Woman—was created. Under the watchful eye of a surly mask-maker, Claire discovers a cache of letters that offers insight into the life of the Belle Epoque woman immortalized in the work of art. As Claire explores the unknown woman’s tragic fate, she begins to unravel deeply buried secrets in her own life.