The Bookseat Review is back and I hope to be sharing a lot more books with you in the coming months! I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction lately and been loving it, so when a colleague at work recommended I read These Dividing Walls by Fran Cooper I was a bit apprehensive at first. Her reassurance that the story was very real was what won me over, and honestly, I am so glad I read this book and I thoroughly enjoyed it!
These Dividing Walls, published by Hodder, is set in Paris, but not the magical, twinkly lights under the Eiffel Tower Paris we see in the movies. It is set in a forgotten corner of Paris where old buildings are set between boulevards, where people who visit the local tabac all know each other and where secrets are kept in every apartment of Number 37.
The whole story is set around the lives of the inhabitants of Number 37, an apartment building made up of a beautiful old front part, and a more commercial back part with a big courtyard in the middle. Each of the characters in the story have their own challenges and growth which they experience during the book, but their lives are also deeply intertwined by the events taking place in the city they live in.
The main character, Edward, a young English man trying to escape his haunting past by visiting Paris, tells one part of the tale, but so do a number of other inhabitants of Number 37. Through each of their individual views the reader gains a deeper understanding of the impact current political and terrorist events have had on the people of Paris.
The terror attacks in the book are fictionalised but they ring very true to the real events. A book such as this really puts into perspective what is happening in Europe for a reader in South Africa, as we in actual fact haven’t been as touched by the immigration and terror events which have been so rife over the last couple of years. The main attack in the book took me back to when I was studying in Oxford and the first Paris bombing took place. The hurt I heard in my French friend’s voice when she said: “Why is this happening again. Why can’t it stop” was echoed in this tale. The hurt cause by the events are depicted in a very real way by Cooper, which made this more than just another story about Paris.
Immigration and xenophobia is also addressed in the book and the consequences of it on French citizens reminded me very much of the same air of resentment we are currently experiencing in our own country. To see these divided attitudes from so many different characters’ perspective was done in a non-intrusive way by Cooper as she makes the reader feel a sense of sympathy even for the characters who do the worst. They each have their stories and their reasons and sometimes we as people forget to look beyond the actions and at the people. Cooper truly does make you understand that what is happening with shop burnings, Muslim hate, protests and abuse of innocent people, is wrong, but she also describes a society in desperate need for understanding and healing, on all fronts.
Despite the heavy, and very important, themes in These Dividing Walls, the book is still a very easy read. The characters are deeply interesting as their back stories intertwine with current events and Edward’s growth to acceptance of his past leaves the reader with a sense of hope for this broken world. I read the Afterword a few days after finishing the book and it was the perfect ending to a story which ends on a knife’s edge for some of the characters.
If you are looking for a quick read with enough meat to it to even steer the non-fiction lover to a raving review, then These Dividing Walls is the one for you!