Foodie Lit

Michael Reidy's Lost Lady

Michael Reidy seems to be a reincarnated writer who lived in the Paris of the 1920’s, so immersed in the era is he: its artists and musicians, its Russian émigrés, and the heady intellectual life that attracted so many from around the world.

The three main characters, Charles Boivet, Danielle Doré and Natasha Tarasova are wounded and damaged from a war. Charles, a soldier in WWI, lost not only friends in the trenches but hope and security. Danielle’s fiancé was killed at the front and she has stopped searching for love and any expectations from life. Natasha, an enigmatic Russian émigré to Paris, is called “Madame X” and the “lost lady” by some—wanting to be lost to escape those pursuing her and wanting to pull together a semblance of a daily life without fear after the terrors of the 1917 Revolution. All are traumatized. They find security in a coffee and croissant at a café, a glass of wine after a concert, a warm bed at night.

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Michael’s grandfather gave him a bronze bust sculpted by Andrew O'Conner, mentioned in the novel, called “Madame X,” and he constructed a story around this woman.  He told me, “Later, through a series of extraordinary events, I met O’Connor’s son (portrait painter, undefeated wrestling champion, forger) who confirmed the Madame X stories I knew. She did not want anyone to know who she was. For the book, I asked myself, why?”

 

Natasha represents the plight of the Russian émigrés, many escaping to Paris after the Russian revolution and the violent ending of its royalty. So much actual history merges with fiction, not only with Natasha but with Charles and Danielle.

Charles, Danielle and Natasha form an unlikely trio in a Paris that is also traumatized and frenzied at the same time. Art, music and literature explode creatively as thousands pour into Paris. Those now famous crowd the cafés, theatres, concert halls and mingle with our trio. Natasha, an artist’s model and creator of ballet costumes, introduces Charles and Danielle to this world. She meets them at concerts filled with Russian composers and performers, the audience crammed with Russians escaped from the comrades of the Red Party and former aristocrats also trying to hide from those who seek them out, murdering to prevent any return to power of the Tzar and his family or political coups within the Tzar’s family.

 

Enigmas are plotted into this historical novel, romance, mystery. Charles and Danielle know that Natasha is not this aristocratic young woman’s name. She reveals little about herself, always worried that the danger that surrounds her will touch her friends. But slowly, Michael lets hints seep through conversations, actions and even Natasha’s diary. As the author worked hard to create this novel, we, the readers, must work to solve much in his writing—French and Russian not translated, who the musicians and artists are, are the concerts and paintings real, and who is the mysterious Mademoiselle?

Having lived in Paris while my husband studied violin at the Paris Conservatory and his life-long music career gave me a familiarity with the names of composers, performers and the halls where they performed. Even the mysterious Mademoiselle that Natasha studies piano with is someone I met with many times and my husband studied and traveled with.

The fears and instability of the era of WWI and the 1920’s we know leads to greater horrors in the next two decades, with the coming of the Depression and the National Socialists Workers Party (Nazis). The people of the 1920’s were relieved to have lived through the “war to end all wars” and dance, drink and relish the jazz that permeates Paris.

Michael Reidy is a superb researcher, creating a vibrant Paris of the 1920’s making the setting with its fictional and historical people alive and true. His characters grow as do the intrigues and conspiracies, enfolding characters and readers into the mystery surrounding Natasha, pulling us towards a suspenseful ending.

Charles, Danielle and Natasha frequent cafés and bistros. Not having much money, it seems that the economical Crusted Cod served with a Warm Salad Niçoise, would be on the menu. Delicious, savory and very French, prepare a portion to eat which you begin the novel!

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