The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 11 September 2001

The Secret Life of the Seine

by Mort Rosenblum

Romance runs like a river through the French countryside. Indeed, that romance is personified by the Seine, which rises and runs through the history and life of Paris and France. Mort Rosenblum, an American writer, bought an old peniche and lived aboard while docked in the middle of Paris. The life that opened up for him became an underside view of modern French life upon the Seine. He traveled from the source to the sea, looking for the secret life that continues on the river today. Along the way, he uncovers legends, visits the impressionists, and discovers the real life of commercial shipping along the river. The story is rich with vivid imagery, but is also sad. Rosenblum reports on the collapse of a family industry. The locks are silted up, the little barges are muscled out by huge corporations powered by unified European commerce, the families are struggling to stay, literally, afloat, and tourist barges blaze on the Seine surrounding Paris. The Seine glides romantically through that most romantic of cities, but it has always carried the load of shipping, as well as the load of civilization's detritus. It is a heavily laden river. It carries with it history and garbage. The romance is sullied by abandoned factories. It's secret life is both luxurious and dark. Rosenblum's report is educational, and saddening. The book is not a lively touristic adventure, but a reavealing gaze at life on the Seine. Rosenblum's writing is a little rough. The chapters read as if written in bursts and out of order. The atmosphere is uneven and sometimes rushed. Nevertheless, it is an interesting look at another side of French life.

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