After a morning of strolling around the magnificent city of Istanbul trying to decide where I’d like to live (it’s my dream), I stopped by Federal Coffee to enjoy a warming flat white and my book – Paris Echo.
Intelligent, humorous and deeply disturbing, the novel focuses on two decidedly-different lives – a lonely American academic and a naive Moroccan teenager – lived in parallel, and interweaving events in present day Paris to the horrors of Vichy France and, of course, the savagery of the Algerian war. To my eye, this novel sets about encouraging the reader to disconnect humanity and politics: focus on those who risked their lives to shelter others, people who ignore virulent racism and ignorance and instead choose to connect with the perceived ‘other’, and those who continue to fight in the face of injustice. These are the real heroes and heroines of our world.
During my undergraduate degree, I studied les années noires and la décolonisation française (history at secondary school was limited to the ‘Great’ British Empire…) and, as reflected in the book, these periods are easily the darkest in living French memory. What troubles me most is the repetition of horrendous historical events and today: we have not learnt anything. Same old, same old. We just have more advanced machinery and more excuses. For example, the UK’s unwillingness to support the safe passage of refugees and stateless; China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims; India’s increasing intolerance; US’s continued violation of international law and lack of basic humanity in its targeted killing programme; and the growing number of proxy conflicts/wars (and mounting death toll) involving Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia. So, for me, the real tragedy of our history is that we are poised to repeat. Bleak. This is why I need delicious coffee when I read.