The Paris Herald
- James Oliver Goldsborough
- Prospecta Press
- 304 pp.
- Reviewed by D.A. Spruzen
- July 15, 2014
A veteran journalist’s first novel honors the venerable Paris Herald, though perhaps with a surfeit of voices.
“He walked off the train and out of the Gare d’Austerlitz and looked over Paris for the second time.” In The Paris Herald, Rupert Archer arrives in Paris in 1965, broke and at loose ends after sojourns in Germany and Barcelona. “Paris had never attracted him,” but an old friend at the Paris Herald writes to say there might be a job for him at the newspaper. He calls the paper and is told that although his friend is away, he should to come in for an interview with Editor-in-Chief Sonny Stein at the offices in rue de Berri. Although Archer had only worked for a short while as an undistinguished reporter stateside, he is hired on the spot; Stein is desperate for someone, anyone, to work on the copy desk.
At first, the story seems to belong to Archer, but alas, that
is not the case. The delights and travails of working at the Herald and living in Paris are shown
through the eyes of many — too many — staff members, spouses, and lovers who
make up this eclectic family. Their often tumultuous stories carry the reader
through the four-year span of this historical novel.
Eddie Jones, the African-American deliveryman with a mysterious past, who knows everything and says nothing. Former editor Eric Hawkins spends most of his days on a favorite bar stool at the Hotel California across the street. Frank Draper, of slight build, stentorian voice, and more than 60 years, confounds his stolid French wife when he chucks it all to become an avocado farmer in Spain. And these are only a few of the quirky personalities populating the pages. Unfortunately, the inconsistent use of first and last names is confusing until all these characters become familiar to the reader.
When union action forces the New York Herald to close its doors, owner Jock Whitney searches for
a partner to keep the Paris operation going. The New York Times has an under-performing Paris office and offers
to buy a majority interest. While Whitney would entertain a deal with the Times, he refuses to cede control. He then
forges a partnership with Katharine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post.
The unions in Paris are equally troublesome, and the new board considers moving operations to Switzerland or Germany. A surprising meeting between the managing editors and Henri de Saint-Gaudens, chief of staff to President Charles de Gaulle, reveals that the great man wishes to keep the paper in Paris, ostensibly because of the close historical relationship between the two countries; he promises tax concessions and other assistance. The Herald stays, for a while.
Famous characters abound, and there are delicious cameo appearances by James Baldwin and Art Buchwald. The myopic, omnipresent de Gaulle strides to center stage twice. The book appropriately closes with Archer, who returns home early one morning to an unpleasant revelation.
Goldsborough limns the City of Light with the honed
sensibility of one who spent many years in Europe as a foreign correspondent
for the New York Herald Tribune and
other distinguished publications. He speaks French, German, and Spanish, knows
the newspaper business, and is quite familiar with Paris and its environs. He also
understands the stresses of long and irregular hours on a family possibly adrift
in the culture. Characters and their relationships are, for the most part,
portrayed sensitively and realistically.
The author grounds the reader with well-known historical events, particularly the headline tragedies of 1968: The assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King are much remarked on in the European media, as is the ongoing Vietnam conflict. Widespread student protests result in an attack on Archer’s taxi and the abduction of his girlfriend Penny, an American hungry for adventure and in no hurry to make her getaway. These protests led to the infamous general strike. “Paris was bored and Paris had exploded.” In 1969, the French, wanting a change, voted de Gaulle out; he was dead within a year.
In his first venture into fiction, Goldsborough’s prose style
is uneven, sometimes lacking sparkle. Dialogue is didactic at times, and the
story might have been better told as nonfiction, or at least through only a
couple of viewpoints. There are several passages that are fun or interesting, but
do little to serve the story, such as the one about the concierge who turns
down her television so she can enjoy vicariously the enthusiastic lovemaking
next door. Other choices are jarring.
At the beginning, Goldsborough refers to the Gare d’Austerlitz, yet later to the Arch of Triumph rather than l’Arc de Triomphe. And yet young Penny sips her glass of rouge and people tutoyer each other (use the informal “you”). The elevator in the Herald building is described as rickety — an apt adjective, but one that loses its appeal in the second instance a few paragraphs down, and the third, some 30 pages later. The postscript wraps a neat bow around the later history of the major characters, also a device perhaps better suited to a work of nonfiction.
Despite these flaws, Goldsborough achieved what he set out to do: honor a venerable institution that, since its founding in 1887, has been essential to American expatriate life in Europe. He describes the news the bureau reported, the turbulence it overcame, and the people who made and tended it. It is a unique and engaging Paris story of love and love lost while the presses beat on at the rue de Berri.
D.A. Spruzen writes poetry and fiction. She
lives and teaches in Northern Virginia.