Paris Architect (Belfoure)

The Paris Architect 
Charles Belfoure, 2015
384 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781402294150

A beautiful and elegant account of an ordinary man's unexpected and reluctant descent into heroism during the second world war. —Malcolm Gladwell

In 1942 Paris, gifted architect Lucien Bernard accepts a commission that will bring him a great deal of money—and maybe get him killed. But if he's clever enough, he'll avoid any trouble.

All he has to do is design a secret hiding place for a wealthy Jewish man, a space so invisible that even the most determined German officer won't find it. He sorely needs the money, and outwitting the Nazis who have occupied his beloved city is a challenge he can't resist.

But when one of his hiding spaces fails horribly, and the problem of where to hide a Jew becomes terribly personal, Lucien can no longer ignore what's at stake. The Paris Architect asks us to consider what we owe each other, and just how far we'll go to make things right.

Written by an architect whose knowledge imbues every page, this story becomes more gripping with every soul hidden and every life saved. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Education—Pratt Institute; Columbia Univeristy
Awards—from the Maryland Historical Trust (see below)
Currently—lives in Westminster, Maryland

An architect and architectural consultant by profession, Charles Belfoure's area of specialty is historic preservation. He graduated from the Pratt Institute and Columbia University and has taught at Pratt, as well as at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland.

Belfoure has published several architectural histories, winning multiple awards from the Maryland Historical Trust, as well as a Graham Foundation Grant for research. Those works include Monuments to Money: The Architecture of American Banks (2011) and Edmund Lind: Anglo-American Architect of Baltimore and the South (2009). He is the co-author of Niernsee & Neilson, Architects of Baltimore (2006) and The Baltimore Rowhouse (2001).

The Paris Architect (2015) is Belfoure's foray into fiction.

In addition to his books, Belfoure has been a freelance writer for the Baltimore Sun and New York Times. He lives in Maryland. (Adapted from the publisher and the author's website.)

Book Reviews
All novelists are architects. But are all architects novelists? Charles Belfoure in his impressive debut seems to have brought us the best of both worlds. Here is a novel to read alongside the latest Alan Furst. I hope there will be more.
Alan Cheuse - NPR

Architect and debut author Belfoure's portrayal of Vichy France is both disturbing and captivating, and his beautiful tale demonstrates that while human beings are capable of great atrocities, they have a capacity for tremendous acts of courage as well.
Library Journal

A thrilling debut novel of World War II Paris, from an author who's been called "an up and coming Ken Follett".... There's plenty of detail to interest architecture buffs, too.

During the Nazi occupation of Paris, an architect devises ingenious hiding places for Jews.... [A]rchitectural and historical details are closely rendered, while the characters are mostly sketchy stereotypes.... [S]trictly workmanlike prose. [But ] as the tension increases, the most salient virtue of this effort—the expertly structured plot—emerges.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Why did the majority of people in France refuse to help the Jews during World War II?

2. In the beginning of the novel, Lucien didn’t care about what happened to the Jews. Discuss how his character evolved throughout the novel. How did your opinion of him change?

3. The Germans were disgusted that the French always informed on one another during the Occupation. Would you assume that this is a common war practice? Why? In what ways does war bring out the worst in people? In what ways does it bring out the best in people?

4. Many spouses abandoned each other because one was Jewish. What did you think when Juliette Trenet’s husband left her? Is there any defense for what he did?

5. One reason Lucien helped Jews was to get architectural commissions from Manet. Did you agree with the French Resistance? Did Lucien’s love of design and the need to prove his talent cross the line into collaboration with the enemy?

6. Most fiction and films portray Nazis as monsters during World War II. Do you believe that some German military men secretly hated or doubted what they were doing? Does following the crowd make these men just as bad as those who carried out their duties without conscience?

7. Discuss the unusual relationship between Lucien and Herzog. Can two men from warring countries be friends?

8. Lucien was already taking an enormous risk by hiding Jews for Manet; why do you think he agreed to take in Pierre?

9. What was your impression of Father Jacques? What kind of role do you think faith plays throughout the novel?

10. Adele had no qualms about sleeping with the enemy. Why would she take such a risk?

11. Bette could have her pick of men but chose Lucien. Discuss what made him special in her eyes. What are the most important qualities you look for in a friend/significant other? Would you be willing to compromise on any of these qualities? For what?

12. If you were a gentile living under the Nazis in World War II, do you think you would have had the courage to hide Jews? What consequences are you willing to face to help others?

13. It’s easy to say, knowing what we do about the horrors that occurred during WWII, that we would have helped Jews with nowhere to hide. How do you think you’d react if a similar situation occurred today? Do you think it’s even possible for a similar situation to occur in our day and age? Why? Why not?

14. Suppose you had been taken from your apartment by Captain Bruckner and lined up in the street. If you knew your life was about to end, what would you be thinking about?

15. If you were under the stairs in the Geibers’ place during the Gestapo’s search, how would you have reacted?

16. Schlegal was disappointed that the people he tortured always talked. What do you think were the motivations behind someone who talked and someone who didn’t? If you were in a situation where someone was trying to get information from  you, what would be the final straw to make you talk?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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