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Perestroika in Paris


Perestroika in Paris

Paras, whose pedigree properly names her Perestroika, has just won an important race at 5-1 odds at Longchamp Racecourse in Paris. The three-year-old filly, a beautiful bay, heard the cheers from the grandstand as she easily cleared the jumps and sailed past the rest of the field. Back at the stables, this leads to an excited exchange between her owner, trainer and groomer over the size of her purse.

Now, alone in her stall after enjoying a treat of brown sugar, Paras finishes an excellent feed of carrots and awaits transport back to the stables. The rest of the horses have been trailered and left. Her groomer leaves for a bathroom break, failing to latch the gate on her stall. Paras leans against it, and it swings open. Surprised, and not seeing or hearing any people nearby, she cautiously steps through and decides to take a stroll. She understands much of what humans say, especially the importance of “the purse,” which causes great enthusiasm among them. She’s heard talk of purses before, and since that leather bag on top of her groomer’s other possessions looks like a purse, she picks it up and trots off into Paris.

"I became so enchanted with Smiley’s book that I could not put it down. This delightful tale should appeal to readers of any age looking for a fascinating and entertaining distraction from our troubled planet."

Thus begins Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley’s latest novel, the perfect tonic to take our minds off of current events. This joyful fable introduces us to relationships involving a few four-legged and winged creatures, living within view of the Eiffel Tower.

Paras soon befriends the savvy dog Frida, who survives on her own following the death of Jacques, a popular street busker around the Champs de Mars. When Frida greets her, Paras is amazed to realize that she not only understands human talk, but can communicate with a dog, and then soon discovers she comprehends other animals (an ability sadly lacking in us mere humans).

Frida cannily explains the importance of dodging the gendarmerie around the Jardins du Trocadéro, so she and Jacques find safe hiding places to spend the night. She also knows that performing tricks results in more coins and euros falling into Jacques’ hat, which can be exchanged for good things to eat. Since carrying a purse filled with money in a horse’s mouth is not one of Paras’ talents, Frida becomes the chancellor of le exchequer. Their lookout scout is the crafty crow, Raoul, who knows every trick of the trade of open living and surveils from the air for danger. There’s also Nancy and Sid, the squabbling mallards who float in the pond next to the Eiffel Tower. And, of course, we can't overlook the curious shop owners: those who are friendly and those who are not, surrounding the Champ de Mars. They puzzle at the sight of a horse not pulling a tourist carriage roaming about the city.

More street-cunning animals join the group, and all is well until winter arrives. It is then that Paras and Frida notice Etienne, an eight-year-old orphan who seems to come and go from Madame de Mornay’s mansion on the Avenue de la Bourdonnais near the Champ de Mars. Suddenly, food and warm shelter become driving forces.

For those unfamiliar with Parisian streets and locales, or who haven’t visited Paris for so long that you’ve forgotten them (myself included), the publisher has enclosed an inside-the-cover map that includes the favorite hiding spots of the many lively characters inhabiting Paras’ new world.

I became so enchanted with Smiley’s book that I could not put it down. This delightful tale should appeal to readers of any age looking for a fascinating and entertaining distraction from our troubled planet. It reminds me a bit of the gentle and charming James Herriot novels, which of course had no talking animals but were so delightfully written as to shut out the outside world. Elements of THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS came to mind, but that was primarily aimed at children. PERESTROIKA IN PARIS may be pigeonholed as a young adult book, but I am far distant from that age group.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 8, 2021

Perestroika in Paris
by Jane Smiley

  • Publication Date: November 2, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor
  • ISBN-10: 052543609X
  • ISBN-13: 9780525436096