Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Hotel on Place Vendome


Today’s nonfiction post is on The Hotel on Place Vendome by Tilar J. Mazzeo. It is 292 pages long including notes, bibliography, and an index. It is published by HarperCollins. The cover is a black and white photograph of the hotel with a woman in evening dress to the right. The intended reader is someone who wants to learn more about life in Nazi occupied Paris. There is some language, talk of sex, and violence in this book. The story is told from interviews, letters, and journals with some first person input from the author. There Be Spoilers Ahead.

From the dust jacket- Established in 1898 in the heart of Paris on the Place Vendome, the Hotel Ritz instantly became an icon of the city frequented by film stars and celebrity writers, American Heiresses and risqué flappers, politicians, playboys, and princes. By the 1920s the bar became a favorite watering hole for F. Scott Fitzgerald and other writers of the Lost Generation, including Ernest Hemingway. In June 1940, when France fell to the Germans, Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda minister of the Third Reich, famously declared that the nation’s capital would remain a high-spirited place- or else. Orders from Berlin specified that the Hotel Ritz would be the only luxury hotel of its kind in occupied Paris.
Tilar J. Mazzeo traces the history of this cultural landmark from its opening in fin de siècle Paris to the modern era. At its center, The Hotel on Place Vendome chronicles life at the Ritz during wartime, when the hotel simultaneously served as headquarters to the highest-ranking German officers, such as Reichsmarschall Herman Goring, and home to wealthy patrons (and to the spies among them) who stayed on in Paris. At Coco Chanel’s table in the dining room on any given evening, one might find the playwright and screenwriter Sacha Guitry, lithe Russian ballet star Serge Lifar, or Jean Cocteau and his handsome boyfriend.
Mazzeo takes us into the grand palace’s suites, bars, dining rooms and wine cellars, revealing a hotbed of illicit affairs and deadly intrigue, as well as stunning acts of defiance and treachery, in which refugees were hidden in secret rooms, a Jewish bartender passed coded messages for the German resistance, and Wehrmacht officers plotted to assassinate the Fuhrer. By the spring of 1944, as the tides of war shifted, these stories were all coming to their dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking conclusions. There were celebrations as well: when Ernest Hemingway returned in the last hours of the occupation with his rogue band of “irregular” troops to liberate the hotel Ritz, they also liberated many bottles of vintage wine from its cellars.
The result is the story of The Hotel on Place Vendome- a singular season at the world-class hotel, an intimate and riveting portrait of the last days of the Second World War.

Review- This is an interesting book about one place during a very particular time. It is not about the French underground or the German resistance. It is about the people who lived and worked in the Hotel Ritz during the occupation of Paris. It is an amazing cast of characters. From Coco Chanel to Ernest Hemingway and many people who are now mostly unknown. There is passion, betrayal, high fashion, and morally grey actions. Mazzeo takes the reader on a journey from the very beginning of the Hotel Ritz and all the way to its present state. The Hotel is one of the most important characters of the story. Everything that everyone does is about the Hotel. Why the German’s want it, why spies were able to work right next to each other, and why the Allies wanted to have it liberated first. If you are looking for an uplifting war story then this is not for you but if you want something more honest then I would give this a try.
I give this book a Five out Five stars. I get nothing for my review and I was given a copy of this book by HarperCollins for free in exchange for an honest review.