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That Summer in Paris    by Abha Dawesar order for
That Summer in Paris
by Abha Dawesar
Order:  USA  Can
Nan A. Talese, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

A young writer named Maya has just been awarded a fellowship to work in Paris. Recovering from a relationship gone sour, she seeks contact with someone with similar interests and subscribes to an online dating service, with this as her profile: 'Spiritual twenty-something aspiring novelist with hot buns and yoga body seeks another. Write like Prem Rustum, think like Prem Rustum, speak like Prem Rustum, be Prem Rustum. Worship at his altar like I do ...' For Maya is passionate about the Nobel prizewinner's novels.

At a lunch, celebrated author Prem Rustum, now in his mid-seventies, meets an aspiring young writer named Roger Johnson, who gives him a story of his to read - on online dating. Maya meets Roger online and they spend time together. And Prem hears about Maya from Roger, and discovers online dating, with a little help from his old friend and fellow author Pascal, who advises him that 'for a teenage girl sixty-five is no different from seventy-five.' Prem replies to Maya's posting and - after initial doubts on her side that he's who he says he is - they meet. Prem follows Maya to Paris, telling Pascal that he seeks 'honest love without calculation'.

There are meetings and misunderstandings, as friendship blossoms between the two. They share music and art and ideas. Prem worries about his habit of transference of attributes of characters back and forth between fiction and the people he gets to know in real life. Maya worries about her own difficulty in writing, given the huge influence of Prem's writing and ideas on her own. There are flashbacks to Prem's prior relationships, especially to the primary one with his beloved sister Meher, who died some time before. He started with a young Meher and came full circle to this last fling with young Maya (note the similar sound of the names).

That Summer in Paris is a beautifully crafted and lyrically written account of a May-September relationship in a literary context. Both characters are delightful, and the development of their feelings for each other is presented with a light irony that fits well with the French perspective on love and romance. Prem wrote one novel about a stalking fan labelled 'Judith Q, the New York nutcase' whose actions inject a rather morbid humor into the novel. And I loved the relationship and conversations between the two old friends, Prem and Pascal, and between Prem and his precocious young grandson, Ratan.

That Summer in Paris is a very satisfying novel, with thoughts on the writing process, the relationships between authors and their fans, and on the value of literature that will stay with you.

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