It is a good book. It tells about neighbourhood; its present, its history; religion and community; food, coffee, wine, greengrocers, fishmongers, charcuteries, cheesemongers; art, and the art of living. Rue des Martyrs is the length of half a mile, and descends from Montmartre, and in descending, crosses from the 18th arrondissement into the 9th.
The chapter that centres on the Jewish schoolgirls of the Edgar Quinet School who were rounded up in July, 1942, and later murdered, in the Second World War, with the collaboration of the French with the Nazis, is especially fine. She quotes the words of Jean-Claude Devaux, the school’s past principal, at his annual ceremony of remembrance.
“It is now our responsibility and yours, young students, to tell others they must remember so that it will never again be possible for police to come into our classrooms as hunters…. French police came to hunt down French girls, classmates of women who are with us tonight. Be vigilant so that it never happens again. Because anything is possible, always, always. You students must transmit the message to your generation that you must not discriminate, that you must not differentiate, that there can be no killing for religion or skin color.”
Her chapter on books in France is marvellous. I quote:
“France retains a reverence for the printed book As independent bookstores crash and burn in the United States, the market here is healthier, largely to government protections that treat the stores as national treasures. Grants and interest-free loans are available to would-be owners, and price-fixing reigns.
“In France, booksellers—including Amazon—may not discount books more than 5 percent below the publisher’s list price. With such a small discount, many customers prefer to shop in stores, where book-loving salespeople stand by ready to offer advice and opinions. E-books (whose prices are also fixed) have yet to become a big market, except for the French classics, many of which can be downloaded for free.”
This chapter contains a section on one of the three librairies on Rue des Martyrs. The bookstore offers ten thousand titles in a shop of 215 square feet, and is in a building that has had a bookstore in it for over a hundred years. Sciolino thought that, as the shop opened at noon, that the co-owners, Gilberte and Hélène, “might be semiretired. Not so. They need mornings to read their books so they can properly advise their customers.”