In German occupied Paris, a group of unlikely people join in collaboration to smuggle Allied airman south to Spain. One of those intrepid heroes happens to be American. The Siren of Paris, the debut work of historical fiction by David LeRoy, tells a searing story of love, betrayal, forgiveness, and war that brings to vivid life the shimmering City of Lights during its darkest hours during World War II.
The story starts in 1939, when Marc Tolbert, the French-born son of a prominent American family, takes off for Paris to follow his dream of becoming an artist. Marc’s life soon sparkles in the ex-pat scene in Paris. His new friend Dora introduces him to a circle that includes the famous Sylvia Beach, owner of the bookstore Shakespeare & Company; and he accepts a job with William Bullitt, US ambassador to France. At art school, he finds himself further enchanted by the alluring model Marie.
Marc’s Parisian reverie, however, is soon clouded over by the increasing threat from Germany. As Americans scramble to escape Paris, he finds himself trapped by the war, and nearly meets his fate on the disastrous day of June 17, 1940, aboard the RMS Lancastria. Upon returning to Paris, his fate grows more troubled still, as he smuggles Allied airman through the American Hospital to the Paris Resistance underground, until a profound betrayal leads him into the hands of the Gestapo and onto Buchenwald.
Rigorously researched and vibrant in historical detail, The Siren of Paris reimagines one of history’s most turbulent times through the prism of an American abroad in Europe’s most harrowing days. Poignant, gripping, and thought-provoking, The Siren of Paris mines the human dilemma of revenge versus forgiveness, and vividly captures the conflicted state of survival.
Marc decided to walk home instead of taking the Metro. He approached one of the main boulevards that led from the east train station. All along the road, people carried whatever baggage they could manage. A few were injured. Marc stood on the side of the street and watched as they passed. At first he was going to cross over, but then decided to join the crowd and walk for a bit. He knew after a few moments where they were going. He could overhear them speaking among themselves in French or Dutch. After crossing the Seine, and walking a few more blocks,
Marc briefly lost track of time. It had not been long, maybe only twenty minutes or so. The crowds grew denser. There was less room to walk on the sidewalks or even the street. In another block, he could see the façade of the station in front of him. He did not walk any further, and instead turned around. He walked against the crowds coming down the street, turning his back to the south train station with a horde of people before it. A herd of goats being led by a peasant farmer did not faze him, because livestock had now become common in Paris. After another thirty or so minutes, he stood in the street below his apartment. Bricks crushed a car on the other side of the street. People took what they could from the building. Marc stood in shock, as he looked directly up into the parlor room of his fourth-floor flat. He made his way in through the door and up the marble staircase as others were coming down. Marc opened the door to his apartment, and the evening breeze gently flapped the drawing he’d done of Marie back in early December.
He turned over the armoire, pulled out the clothes, and packed his bags. He found the keys that Nigel and Dora had given him. The bowl’s rose-colored glass lay shattered on the floor. He stuffed the francs from Dora into his jacket. Marc felt cold and detached as he gathered his belongings. He fully accepted the loss of the wall to the outside street below. It did not bother him at all that he was not sure where he was going to stay. He had two sets of keys, after all, for two other Parisian apartments. They could not have got all of them, he thought to himself. Nothing could take his mind off the crowds at the south station. The desperate voices, the stares of the other refugees looking to flee the city, echoed in his mind. Before he left the apartment, he looked around. He saw the drawing again on the wall, and remembered with a small laugh what the instructor had said. “This is what you came to France for, Marc.”
(LeRoy, David. The Siren Of Paris)
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