In their grief and defiance, Parisians are heading to the bistro, reaching for the Beaujolais nouveau, and immersing themselves in fine literature.
Ernest Hemingway’s classic account of his expatriate life among artists and fellow writers in 1920s Paris, A Moveable Feast, has soared up French bestseller lists and sold out in bookstores in the wake of the November 13 terror attacks.
Paris est une fête (Paris is a feast) as it is titled in French, is enjoying a literary renaissance akin to Voltaire’s Treatise on Tolerance, which “broke the bookstore”–and Amazon–after the Charlie Hébdo and kosher market killings in January.
Mourners have placed copies of Hemingway’s tome between flowers and candles in front of the cafes, bars and restaurants where scores were murdered last Friday. It can also be seen in front of the Bataclan concert hall, scene of the massacre of 89 people.
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.’’ During Monday’s minute of silence in honor of the victims, Parisians held copies of the book in which Hemingway declares: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.’’
The Hemingway revival is mostly thanks to a 77 year-old woman named Danielle, who extolled the book as a celebration of France and fraternity, in front of the Bataclan.
“It’s very important to bring flowers for our dead,” she said. “It’s also important to see Ernest Hemingway’s memoir of life in Paris at the memorials because we are a very old civilization and we will uphold our values at the highest level.
“We will fraternize with the five million Muslims who practice their religion freely and kindly and we will fight the 10,000 barbarians who kill, supposedly in the name of Allah.’’
Her impromptu, rousing speech captured by BFMTV quickly went viral, moved many French, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, spawning the hashtag #DesFleursPourDanielle.
Bookstores are selling out of Paris est une fête, which has gone from moving ten copies daily in bookstores to 500. Publisher Folio is hastily planning a mass reprint to cope with demand (the French translation was second on the Amazon bestseller lists today). Literary programs and newspapers are recommending the French delve into its timeless evocation of the City of Lights, when it was a magnet for writers like James Joyce, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein, as a salve for their psychic wounds.
But who could be surprised by the clamor? As Papa wrote: “There are only two places in the world where we can live happy: at home and in Paris.”
Read this next: It’s not hypocritical to care more about Paris than Beirut. All our our coverage of the Paris attacks can be found here.