November 23, 2015

In Paris, Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast becomes emblem of defiance


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The woman whose spirited interview on the local news helped make A Moveable Feast the emblem of Paris after the attacks. Courtesy of BFMTV.

Along with the flowers and candles placed at the sites of last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris, mourners are also leaving copies of Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. Bookstores are moving lots of copies, too. The American writer’s memoir has come to serve as a symbol of cultural defiance in the aftermath of the attacks that took the lives of hundreds on Friday, November 13.

Paris est une fête—“Paris is a celebration,” as it’s titled in French—recounts Hemingway’s formative beginnings in 1920s Paris, and describes how lasting the influence of Paris’s intellectual climate would prove. Published posthumously in 1964, Hemingway was inspired to write the memoir in 1957, after rediscovering trunks of notes and journals from his early days in Paris.

As he put it:

“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.’’

The Guardian‘s Alison Food reports that Paris est une fête soured to #1 on Amazon‘s French website only fours days after re-entering the Top 100. Folio, the book’s French publisher, has received over 8,000 orders for the title in the days following the attacks, and are printing a second-run of 20,000 copies. In previous years, the publisher sold between 6,000 and 8,000 copies annually.

Flood traces the book’s resurgence to a French TV station’s interview with a 77 year-old woman named Danielle, who would only provide her first name and age. Standing outside the Bataclan concert hall, the scene of one of Friday’s attacks, Danielle gave an inspired speech calling upon the people of France to celebrate their culture in the face of such hatred and terrorism.

Danielle’s directive to her fellow countrymen and mourners (as translated by The Guardian):

“It’s very important to bring flowers for our dead,” she said. “It’s also important to see Ernest Hemingway’s memoir of life in Paris at the memorials because we are a very old civilization and we will uphold our values at the highest level. We will fraternize with the five million Muslims who practice their religion freely and kindly and we will fight the 10,000 barbarians who kill, supposedly in the name of Allah.’’

The video of her interview with BFMTV has since gone viral, and even spawned the hashtag #DesFleursPourDanielle.

As John Oliver so succinctly put it: “If you’re in a war of culture and lifestyle with France, good fucking luck.”



Ena Brdjanovic is Director of Digital Media at Melville House.