Born in Paris and raised in the United States, 21-year-old Marc Tolbert enjoys the advantages of being born to a wealthy, well-connected family.. Reaching a turning point in his life, he decides to abandon his plans of going to medical school and study art in Paris. In 1939, he boards a ship and heads to France, blissfully unaware that Europe -- along with the rest of the world -- is on the brink of an especially devastating war.
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When he arrives at l'École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts, more ominous signs surface. There are windows covered with tape, sandbags shielding the fronts of important buildings, whispers of Parisian children leaving the city, and gas masks being distributed. Distracted by a blossoming love affair, Marc isn't too worried about his future, and he certainly doesn't expect a Nazi invasion of France.
Marc has a long journey ahead of him. He witnesses, first-hand, the fall of Paris and the departure of the French government. Employed by an ambassador, he visits heads of state, including the horribly obese gray-haired Mussolini and the charismatic Hitler. He witnesses the effects of the tightening vise of occupation, first-hand, as he tries to escape the country. He also participates in the French resistance, spends time in prison camps, and sees the liberation of the concentration camps. During his struggles, he is reunited with the woman he loves, Marie, who speaks passionately of working with the resistance. Is she working for freedom, or is she not to be trusted?
The inspiration for this book began at this statue in September of 2010. I was visiting Antibes, France, and other cities of the Cote d’ Azure area, for an art class. The statue stood in a park near the medieval part of town, and it always had fresh flowers for remembrance. Upon returning to the states, I decided to finally write that novel that I had wanted to for years. You know, that sort of undefined goal of “one day, I am going to write a book.” I decided to craft a novel around an American who had become trapped in German occupied France, cut off from home, and later became a member of the French underground resistance.
At the time I came up with my crazy premise, I had no idea just how many Americans had actually experienced this. Even though I have a college education, a love for history, and a personal connection to World War II that gave me the impression, growing up in my house, that bombs might drop at any minute, I actually did not have a very accurate idea of just what the Fall of France was like. After forty-six books, along with hundreds of other documents and photographs, I knew enough to realize that many of the ideas I had for my first book were silly romantic visions based upon old movies.
Twenty-two months later, I uploaded The Siren of Paris into the Kindle store. Here are a few of the elements found in the book: lucid dreams, graveyards, ocean liners, dead dogs, a horse stampede, a chrome bicycle, a female nude model, artistic drawing, riding on top of trains, lions, bears, elephants, air raids, orphans, an angora rabbit, tarot cards, xenophobia, a lost airman, a blind resistance leader, Lalique crystal lights, verbal abuse, manipulation, deception and Jean Dunand Lacquer murals. Of course, there is more, but this gives you some idea of how eclectic the book might feel.
The Siren of Paris takes real people and historical events and interweaves them with the story of Marc Tolbert to bring this period to life. He was born in Paris, and his mother is French, but his father is American and he has been raised in New York. Marc decides to return to Paris after a failed relationship in the states. He is setting out to start over with the fresh goal of becoming an artist instead of a medical doctor.
I did not realize just how popular books are about Paris today. People seem to read them obsessively. The city of love and lights has a romantic attraction for the public’s imagination. It is easy to find stories that have that special café and descriptions of dinners with unusual wines. Lets not forget the romance of the city, where boy meets girl, and the girl gets the boy. Don’t forget the monuments, and museums, and the churches.
Most historical novels have a romantic theme. The alpha male meets the beta female, and the beta female who longs for the alpha male finally convinces him that she is right for him. I took this theme and flipped it on its head. Marc Tolbert is a very nice, well meaning, co-dependent enabling Catholic beta male who falls in love and attempts to convince a narcissistic French alpha female nude model that he is right for her. He survives the war which is more than what happened for millions of others in those years.
Back to the statue for a moment. One of the most disturbing things I found in reading those 46 different books were stories of betrayal. A part of the oppression and force reflected in that statue comes not from the Nazis, but from people whom members of the French Resistance had trusted, who betrayed them because they were collaborators. In fact, in the spring of 1944, six thousand French men and women applied for two thousand jobs in Paris to work with the German Gestapo to uncover and arrest members of the French underground resistance. Most met their end at 180 Rue de la Pompe Ave, which is one of the few Paris addresses specifically mentioned in the book. I decided to write a story that attempts to demonstrate to the reader the absolutely horrific effect that those betrayals had upon the souls of the victims, down to the very core of their existence.
I start the journey, in the book, with just Marc’s soul, and end the story with Marc’s soul. I drew upon an unusual text for this model, and that is the Egyptian Book of the Dead, also known as the Scroll of Ani. The driving motivation for this decision is that betrayal creates guilt. This guilt, over time, becomes shame, and can lead to silence that lasts even to the grave. I decided to give the soul of my fictionalized character a chance of moving past this sea of guilt and shame and finding eternal peace. This type of allegorical treatment of the story, in The Siren of Paris, gives it a dreamlike quality that blurs the distinction between life and death.
There are people alive today who have yet to move past World War II. I met and talked with several of them in the course of researching this book. To be very honest, it was these people I had in mind as I wrote the book. War totally destroys a person’s peace of mind, and that is not something that just heals and returns over time. It is a scar that people live with throughout their lives. The Siren of Paris tells the story of how that scar is created and what it costs the person, and it gives a vision of hope that there will come a day when the scar will be healed.