There is nothing as intriguing as debut fiction from an author known for his award-winning nonfiction. But with “Paris Twilight” (HMH, $25), Ross Rymer shows just how far his extensive talents stretch as he introduces intrigue.
Readers are introduced to Matilde Anselm, professor of cardiac anesthesiology, who arrives in Paris from New York to be part of a surgery team in the winter of 1990, as manifestations against the First Gulf War are raging in the streets. Even as her concerns mount over the shadowy protocols surrounding the planned heart transplant, and even as she falls in love with the Arab diplomat in charge of those protocols, a surprise inheritance — a mysterious Paris apartment and a trove of love letters from the Spanish Civil War, bequeathed to her by a stranger — sweep her through a hidden Paris and into the labyrinth of her own buried past.
Rymer is the author of “Genie: A Scientific Tragedy,” which became a NOVA television documentary and was finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. Rymer, currently the Joan Leiman Jacobson Non-Fiction Writer in Residence at Smith College, has contributed articles to The New Yorker, National Geographic, Harper’s, Atlantic and The New York Times Magazine. “Paris Twilight” is his first novel.
“I do tend to write about women, even in my non-fiction,” explained the author. “My two first books centered on the experience of an abused girl who had never learned language, in the first case, and a Black heiress and opera singer, in the second. And ‘Paris Twilight’ didn’t began to speak to me until I discovered Matilde’s voice one day and thought, maybe this is a woman’s story. But this was something that the story revealed, and not something I impose on it. At some point in the middle of working on the book, it occurred to me to worry about all this and I tried to think of other books, with a 50-year-old hero and especially women who were passionate about life, and wounded by it, but not subdued, and who were professionals, who were passionate about their work. And it’s strange, but I couldn’t really find many. There just aren’t a lot of women like Matilde in American fiction. So maybe writers, even writers who are women, do find it difficult to write from that perspective, but I didn’t. I found it natural. I didn’t develop her as a character out of any desire to seek fictional justice for women of a certain age, as much as I might like to claim that. It wasn’t a campaign of any sort. It’s just her story.”
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