City of Dreams
City of Dreams follows Anna, a Russian who moves to Paris on the verge of the 1865 Franco-Prussian war. Early in the story she falls from riches to rags, in a way reminiscent of Fantine from Les Miserables, though Anna’s starting point is higher and her decline not so disastrous. After a brief period in comparative poverty, Anna finds a comfortable career as mistress to a selection of wealthy men. The war ushers in a troubled period for the city and occupants.
The recounting of the history was more compelling than the personal drama. Harriet comments that the Franco-Prussian war is somewhat overlooked, I certainly knew little about it, and the only familiar event was the eating of zoo animals during the siege. The description of the progress of the war was illuminating.
The author invites us to draw parallels between Anna and émigré brides of today, with all the potential for social dislocation and dismissal. She also enables us to share an outsider’s view of France. However, I found it difficult to engage with Anna, and the city at large was the more vivid character.
Readers looking for nineteenth-century stories away from the obvious Napoleonic or British Empire settings might enjoy City of Dreams. It is, however, hard to classify. Although touching on battles, it is not a war book. There are sexual elements, but it is not a romance. It is, I think, best read as a reflection of Paris herself.
Technically the book was well turned out; proofreading was thorough. A few chapters ended with a couple of lines slipping onto a new page; a final edit would easily correct these.