A Cruel Calm: Paris Between the Wars

Written by Patricia Daly-Lipe
Review by Gerard Shea

This well researched novel covers the years 1927-1939, a time when Paris was the cultural center of the world. Paris, still recovering from the ravages of the First World War, faces the growing shadow of the next “great war.” Young, naïve, American socialite, Libby Whitacker, moves to Paris with her new husband during this period of artistic, technological, and cultural dynamism. Libby witnesses Charles Lindbergh as he makes the first transatlantic flight in 1927, and she meets and gets guidance from James Joyce, who lives in the same apartment building as she does. As Libby moves in the circles of high society, she also meets Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and Joseph Campbell among others. However, the heart of the story is how Libby deals with the reality that her husband is not who she thinks he is.

Patricia Daly-Lipe does an excellent job of including accurate historical details that enhance the story. Additionally, we learn about the artists and their works through the clever use of their own words. The novel also shows how, despite all the changes in the larger society, the Catholic Church refuses to deviate from tradition. The church’s refusal to adapt has terrible consequences for the heroine.

The book does a good job of capturing the spirit of the time—an age when everything seemed possible as a result of the pace of technological change. The combination of historical detail and poignant romance make this novel well worthwhile. The author should also be commended for the creative way she introduces historical figures into the novel. Anyone who is interested in learning about the time in history between the two world wars should read this novel.