THE PARIS BOOKSELLER

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When, after a stint in the Red Cross, adventurous American Sylvia Beach opens Shakespeare and Company, first on 8 rue Dupuytren and later at its famous address, 12 rue de L’Odéon, it soon becomes a haven for Paris’ cadre of expatriate writers. Selling and renting English language books, the store is an ideal counterpart to La Maison des Amis des Livres, the French bookshop across the street, run by Sylvia’s friend and soon-to-be lover, Adrienne Monnier. Thanks to Sylvia’s fluency in French, and to Adrienne, the French and English literary worlds converge in the ambit of the two shops, known as “Odeonia.” Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot (and somewhat less eagerly, Gertrude Stein) are only a few of the notables that frequent Shakespeare and Company. As readers become inured to the heady atmosphere of cafe society and intellectual ferment on the Left Bank, the book’s midsection sags. Apart from a poignant crisis concerning Sylvia’s mother, the bookseller’s professional involvement with James Joyce poses the main, if not the only, conflict in Maher’s book. As Joyce strives to complete the groundbreaking Ulysses, Sylvia’s store is his refuge. Of all the passing writers, Joyce is the most meticulously portrayed: his egg-shaped head, his ashplant cane, his dog phobia, his failing vision (due to glaucoma). Sylvia helps Joyce sort out his domestic chaos and pays for his treatment by her own eye doctor. When excerpts from Ulysses appear in a New York magazine whose editors are then prosecuted for disseminating smut, other publishers run scared. Into this pusillanimous void steps Sylvia. But after gargantuan struggles to publish Ulysses under her own aegis, will Sylvia reap the rewards of her literary valor, or at least of her loyalty to Joyce? That is the question that propels this plot.

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