Book Review: Hotel on the Place Vendome, by Kerry McHugh

Review originally published in the May 18, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission. If you don't already receive it, sign up here to receive a bi-weekly dose of readerly goodness in your inbox.

If the walls of the Hôtel Ritz could talk, The Hotel on the Place Vendome would be their memoirs. Tilar Mazzeo presents a history of this glitzy Parisian hotel, cataloguing the lives and actions of its rich and famous occupants--from Marcel Proust to Coco Chanel, Hemingway and Fitzgerald to Hermann Göring.

Mazzeo (The Secret of Chanel No. 5) starts with the hotel's opening in 1898, then moves chronologically through the building's history. The bulk of her account, though, is spent on the years during World War II and the activities leading up to the Nazi occupation of Paris, then to the city's liberation in 1944. Mazzeo leaves no stone unturned, giving as much attention to the members of the French Resistance--several of whom worked in the Ritz--as to "horizontal collaborators," French women known to sleep with Nazi soldiers during the Occupation.

This is a history many French citizens, even now, would prefer to leave untold; Mazzeo recalls how one interview subject whose husband fought in the Resistance warned her not to write the book. But write it she did, and readers should be grateful, for the lens of the Hôtel Ritz provides not only a fascinating history of a building that has captured our imaginations for over a century, but a broader history of the building's many occupants.

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