After the Paris attacks, sales surged for the French translation of Ernest Hemingway's memoir of the city
The French title of the book, "Paris est une fête," translates as "Paris is a party" in English
Ernest Hemingway might have been surprised to learn that his novel, “A Moveable Feast,” quickly became a source of comfort for many Parisians in the wake of the deadliest attack the city had seen since World War II.
“Then there was the bad weather” – the opening sentence of the American writer’s memoir of life in Paris during the 1920s rings true nearly a century later. His description of the damp chill in the French capital matched the mood on a freezing, rain-soaked Saturday night as Parisians struggled to come to grips with the aftermath of a deadly terror attack.
“All of the sadness of the city came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter,” Hemingway wrote. He could easily have been describing the scene as shivering Parisians lit candles in the rain at the makeshift memorial that stands across the street from the darkened Bataclan Theater. On the night of November 13, gunmen stormed in, massacring more than eighty concert-goers there.
Hemingway’s love letter to the City of Light has long been required reading for many foreign visitors to Paris. Copies of “A Moveable Feast” stand prominently on display in the venerable English-language bookstore Shakespeare and Company, which Hemingway is said to have frequented in the 1920s.
Shortly after November 13, the French translation of the 51-year-old book leaped to the top of the bestseller list on the French version of online book dealer Amazon and remained there for days.
Sales also spiked at many independent book stores across Paris. “No more. It’s sold out,” said David Rey, co-owner of the bookstore “A Tout Livre.” He said Hemingway’s book has been the store’s top seller for the past week.
Valerie Caffier saw the same trend this week at Le Divan bookshop, where customers bought at least 47 copies of the book in a single day on Saturday. “It’s become a form of resistance for Parisians against what happened,” she explained. “The terrorists attacked during a very festive moment and this book is a symbol of a festive way of life.”
Part of the attraction may stem from the French title of the book, “Paris est une fête.” The title translates as “Paris is a party” in English.
“This is a city of light that loves to party, which was clearly darkened by these awful attacks last week,” said Jean-Francois Douine, a customer who just purchased his copy of the French version. “So I think that’s the reason for the book’s recent success.”
Sporting wire-rimmed spectacles, elegantly twirled whiskers and an olive newsboy cap, Douine, perhaps unintentionally, resembled some of the characters in Hemingway’s novel.
“We have to live. We have to continue to go out,” he said, with a hint of Gallic defiance. “We have to go to the stores, do our Christmas shopping and stick our tongues out at the terrorists.”
Several book store owners said that since the attacks, they have also seen a surge of interest in books about Islamist radicalism, which they attributed to customers trying to understand the ideology behind the violence. But several stores reported that sales of books on al Qaeda and ISIS have not compared to the rediscovery of Hemingway’s Paris memoir.
Interest in “A Moveable Feast” has undoubtedly been boosted by the fact that #Parisestunefete has become a patriotic hashtag slogan on French social media. But some contrarian Parisians do not appreciate this Hemingway-inspired form of online activism. “Literature became a hashtag,” complained David Rey, co-owner of the A Tout Libre bookshop. “It reduces literature to a slogan, a kind of caricature of Paris,” he said. “Paris: it (is) not a party any more.”
In truth, many residents said the city felt more empty than usual these days. This weekend, many of the city’s famous cafes appeared sparsely populated.
But across the street from the Bataclan Theater on Saturday night, by the light of flickering candles, several dozen Parisians braved the wind and rain to gather around an upright piano.
“Don’t worry, be happy,” they sang, repeating the Bobby McFerrin ode to the simple, good things in life. Soon after, they performed a full-throated rendition of Leonard Cohen’s moody ballad “Hallelujah.”
The singers appeared determined to live up to Hemingway’s immortal words: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
CNN’s Bradley Olson, Tim Lister and Antonia Mortensen contributed to this report.