The Paris Apartment

Written by Kelly Bowen
Review by Dorothy Schwab

Is this an apartment or a museum? This is the question Aurelia asks in the summer of 2017, as she enters the recently inherited property that her grandmother had occupied in Paris over seventy years ago – completely unbeknownst to her. A secret of such magnitude! After wandering through extravagantly furnished rooms filled with paintings by world-renowned artists, discovering a closet packed with shoes, gowns and furs plus a wardrobe that protected exquisitely embroidered silks and satin couture dresses, Lia is astounded to stumble upon photos from German officer Hermann Göring. Lia comes to the nauseating conclusion that her grandmother was a Nazi collaborator.

Just as artists layer paintings with texture and color, Kelly Bowen deftly builds an artistic dual timeline. Underneath the canvas of 2017 lies a 1940s war landscape painted over with battle-weary soldiers and newly widowed Sophie Kowalski in the foreground. Bowen’s scene is blended with scared, hungry Jews, Rachel and three-year-old Aviva, and a gorgeous Parisian socialite, Estelle Allard, huddling on the horizon. To complete the picture, Bowen slaps a jarring slash of red and black as the Germans flaunt the Nazi flag over the Ritz Hotel. The mystery of Lia’s newly acquired apartment, filled with a magnificent art collection, couture gowns, and secret identities, unfolds in hidden images blurred by Bletchley Park codes and the Millbrook Hall ancestral estate, but is finally illuminated by Gabriel, an art appraiser and restoration expert.

Readers and lovers of art will lament with Estelle: “How much history will a family or a country lose when they lose the things that unite them? That tells the stories of their pasts?” Kelly Bowen’s The Paris Apartment is a dazzling chandelier for the eyes that also pierces the heart.