In general, if a book is written about Paris during the Second World War, there is a very good chance that I am going to love it. With this book however, I started out loving it, then I didn’t like it, then I liked it, then I didn’t again, before finally deciding that I couldn’t decide if I liked it or hated it.
This is mostly because Mazzeo tries to present a history of the Ritz during the Second World War without actually talking about the Ritz during the Second World War. She starts off with the founding of the Ritz, then the German invasion of Paris, before jumping immediately to D-day in the third chapter. I assumed that maybe she wasn’t going in chronological order, which turned out to be only half true. The events going on at the Ritz are alluded to, but are not explored fully, which is crazy because you had high ranking German officers living in the same hotel that became a hub for clandestine activities for the French resistance.
Where Mazzeo does exel in in her profiles of the rich and famous people who lived at the Ritz either before or during the war including, but not limited to Ernest Hemingway, Marcel Proust, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Marlene Dietrich, and her favourite, Coco Chanel. Because her focus is on these personalities, she writes at length about the press battle that waged with covering D-Day and the Allied invasions. I’ve seen all the famous photographs, but never really stopped to think about the process reporters, like Ernest Hemingway and Robert Capa, went through to get them. I also learned that Ho Chi Mihn worked in the kitchens at the Ritz, and interesting factoid that Mazzeo threw in during the last chapter.
It was interesting, and I liked parts of it, I just wish that Mazzeo had done more on the events that took place at the Ritz during the war, especially regarding the resistance movement that so many of the staff were involved in. She captures the spirit of the Ritz during the war, the eternal glamour that the hotel sought to maintain, but I wanted more regarding life “behind the scenes.”
This seems to be a period of time that is of interest to Tilar J. Mazzeo and she has written another book solely on Coco Chanel’s dubious life during the war. Because the chapter regarding Coco Chanel was one of my favourites, I think I will add it to my TBR list.