12 May 2011

Review: 13 Rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro

What would you do if you found a box of mementos that belonged to a woman who lived almost a century ago? What stories would be revealed by those bits of someone else's life? When American scholar Trevor Stratton discovers just such a box in his temporary office at a Paris university, he cannot help but study the objects that were so carefully saved, wondering about their history and meaning.

The more closely Trevor examines Louise Brunet's belongings, the more the lines between time periods begin to blur. Eventually, Trevor seems to have experienced Louise's life firsthand . . . but how could he have?

Elena Mauli Shapiro's 13 Rue Thérèse is on the surface the story of Louise Brunet, a passionate, musically talented woman who lived in Paris through the two world wars. On different levels, however, the novel explores war, heartache, loss, love, and marriage and is colored with a mood of mystery and magic.

We learn the details of Louise's life piecemeal, as Trevor looks through and comes to understand the photographs, letters, coins, and other items stored in her memory box. Only after he becomes obsessed with Louise can he begin to sort out how the meanings of the objects come together to create a coherent biography. The deeper Trevor's research takes him, the harder it is for him to stay in his own time period. Eventually, he believes he has seen life and death through the eyes of the original owners of the preserved objects.

Louise's treasures are not left to readers' imaginations. Instead Shapiro's novel is illustrated, so we see, in full color, the items that Trevor is studying. The text is intimately linked with the illustrations, as you can see in the scan of page 33 to right (click to enlarge). Thus the artwork does more than enhance the text, it is part of the story.

In addition, Shapiro includes 16 QR codes (square bar codes that can be read by a scanner or smart phone) in the back of the book. These codes are linked to pages on the novel's website and contain more information about the items Louise saved. This interaction between text and Internet provide readers with an enhanced experience.

Although the premise of the novel is solid and the visuals and QR codes make the book fun to read, the ending of 13 Rue Thérèse is unsatisfying and a bit too neat.

Give it to me quickly: American professor in Paris discovers a memory box from the early 20th century and becomes obsessed with learning the owner's story; excellent historical details of World War I, eye-catching illustrations, but weak ending.

To learn more about Elena Mauli Shapiro, visit her blog. To learn more about the novel, visit its website.



Published by Little, Brown / Reagan Arthur Books, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780316083287
YTD: 45
Source: Bought (see review policy)
Rating: B
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

21 comments:

bermudaonion 5/12/11, 7:24 AM  

I really enjoyed this book and thought the illustrations and photos added so much to it. It was such an original book. I've added your review to the Reagan Arthur Books Challenge blog.

Sandy Nawrot 5/12/11, 8:22 AM  

I got this book at SIBA, and it has been moved back and forth from my shelves to my nightstand several times. I just can't seem to find a slot to slide it in. Many good reviews for it, but will reign in my expectations with the ending. Can't wait to read it!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 5/12/11, 10:34 AM  

There was a children's book this past fall (middle grade) that had these enhanced online features. I wonder if it's just a trend, or the way of the future.

I'll save 13 RUE THERESE for a time when I want something fun/quick.

TheBookGirl 5/12/11, 10:52 AM  

I picked this up a while ago, and for some reason couldn't get into it...I'm not sure if it was the story, or the way the book was structured. I didn't want to give up on it, though, so I put it back in the TBR pile to be tried another day.

bermudaonion,  5/13/11, 1:18 PM  

I really enjoyed this book and thought the illustrations and photos added so much to it. It was such an original book. I've added your review to the Reagan Arthur Books Challenge blog.

JoAnn,  5/13/11, 1:18 PM  

The premise sounds interesting and reminds me of The Red Leather Diary, which I read (and loved) a couple of years ago.

Zibilee,  5/13/11, 1:19 PM  

Your assessment of the ending is something that I have heard from other readers about this book, though I really do think that the internet component is really cool. I do have a copy of this waiting for me, and I have to say that I have mixed feelings about reading it. This was a really fun review, and gave me lots to think about. Thanks Beth!

Mary,  5/13/11, 1:19 PM  

Ok, trying again (I signed out and then back in and still got blogger error message). This time filling in Name/URL


I think one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much is because it was different from anything I've read. The sum of all the parts (story, visuals, etc) came out on top of any single quibble I had. A truly unique experience for me.

Sany Nawrot,  5/13/11, 1:19 PM  

I got this book at SIBA, and it has been moved back and forth from my shelves to my nightstand several times. I just can't seem to find a slot to slide it in. Many good reviews for it, but will reign in my expectations with the ending. Can't wait to read it!

n,  5/13/11, 1:20 PM  

What an interesting sounding book. It reminds me of the old Griffin and Sabine books. But what makes me sad is that not all of us have scanners or smart phones.

Nan,  5/13/11, 1:20 PM  

The last comment should have read 'nan' not 'n' - not sure why that happened. :<)

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks,  5/13/11, 1:20 PM  

There was a children's book this past fall (middle grade) that had these enhanced online features. I wonder if it's just a trend, or the way of the future.

I'll save 13 RUE THERESE for a time when I want something fun/quick.

TheBookGirl,  5/13/11, 1:21 PM  

I picked this up a while ago, and for some reason couldn't get into it...I'm not sure if it was the story, or the way the book was structured. I didn't want to give up on it, though, so I put it back in the TBR pile to be tried another day.

Beth F 5/13/11, 1:21 PM  

Nan (aka "n"): yes it does remind me of Griffin and Sabine, but I liked Griffin and Sabine more.

Marth@Hey, I want to read that,  5/13/11, 1:22 PM  

I just got the book from Paperback Book Swap and I'm really looking forward to it. I just keep my expectations low about the ending.

Julie P,  5/13/11, 1:22 PM  

I think I enjoyed the idea behind the book almost as much as the book itself.

Amused 5/13/11, 3:10 PM  

This book certainly sounds like it's different than anything else I've read so I'd really like to pick up a copy at some point.

Leslie 5/14/11, 5:22 PM  

I liked this one more than you did. The ending was a little too neat, but that didn't bother me much. I got caught up in the uniqueness of the book and the photos.

Molly 5/15/11, 9:53 AM  

I just picked this book up at the library yesterday --- thought it might be a fun read in mental preparation for my upcoming trip to Paris.

Thanks for the warning about the ending!

Meghan 5/17/11, 3:56 PM  

I liked quite a bit about this book - I didn't get the QR codes unfortunately! I would have loved that aspect of the book as the objects were my favorite part.

Kris 5/20/11, 4:59 PM  

I've read some other positive reviews of this one and it has my interest. sorry to see the ending wasn't the best but that the rest of the book is good.

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