In almost three years, he had been unable to find a single link between the world into which he’d emerged and the labyrinth of his memories. There was a gulf separating them, and his attempts to traverse such a impassible precipice were feeding his madness. Should he believe what his memory was telling him? He was starting to think that his mind was fully of nothing but illusions, a great void that he had populated with wild dreams about his love for a fairy” – The Book of Pearl, Timothée de Fombelle
Initial Thoughts: The Book of Pearl (original title: Le Livre de Perle) by Timothée de Fombelle is a blend of fairy tale and historical fiction set against the backdrop of the second world war. I was so interested in this strange blend because the second world war is hardly my idea of a magical moment in history.
In prose as magical and intricate as the tale it tells, Timothée de Fombelle delivers an unforgettable story of a first love that defines a lifetime.
Joshua Pearl comes from a world that we no longer believe in — a world of fairy tale. He knows that his great love waits for him there, but he is stuck in an unfamiliar time and place — an old-world marshmallow shop in Paris on the eve of World War II. As his memories begin to fade, Joshua seeks out strange objects: tiny fragments of tales that have already been told, trinkets that might possibly help him prove his own story before his love is lost forever. Sarah Ardizzone and Sam Gordon translate the original French into a work both luminous and layered, enabling Timothée de Fombelle’s modern fairy tale to thrum with magic. Brimming with romance and history, mystery and adventure, this ode to the power of memory, storytelling, and love will ensnare any reader’s imagination and every reader’s heart.
A fourteen-year-old boy runs away from home after suffering deep heart break. The girl he loved has vanished leaving no trace for him to follow. The boy journeys into the woods where he is saved from accidentally drowning by Joshua Pearl, a sixty-year-old man. Every once and a while, Pearl leaves home and arrives with suitcases full of treasures. The boy believes Pearl to be a thief, but he decides to stick around and take photographs of Pearl’s treasures. Years later, the boy has grown up and he decides to retrace Pearl’s curious life and the value of his hidden treasures scattered across Europe.
When I began reading The Book of Pearl, I wasn’t too sure what was going on. The story is not told in a linear fashion, but through flashbacks and it changes from third person to first person, and then back to third person. These vignettes are strung together like pearls until everything comes together into a breathtakingly beautiful story of a young man who does everything in his power to return back to the world he came from, and to the fairy who has captured his heart. de Fombelle’s story reminds me a little of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince in its ability to weave magic into an ordinary story.
One of the most striking features of this novel is the prose. Although I have read the English translated version, I was astonished by how daintily crafted The Book of Pearl is. As an aspiring translator, I would love to eventually read the novel in its original French to compare with its original incarnation Le Livre de Perle.
A wicked spell had banished him to this world in order to erase his past, and yet he was finding that past everywhere: in the voice of an old man and the gaze of a child” – The Book of Pearl, Timothée de Fombelle
Although most of The Book of Pearl takes place in the ordinary world of twentieth century France, de Fombelle has built a beautiful world of fairy tales without very much effort. The world of Oliå, and Iliån is greatly unfamiliar, yet de Fombelle uses the language of fairy tales to effortlessly familiarize the reader with this setting. Iliån and Oliå’s world is the world we know from childhood, of magic, kings, fairies, and a jealous brother. This world in its bare bones plays upon the stereotypes of fairy tales, but leaves you feeling as if you have entered into a new world in the process.
I couldn’t help but imagine The Book of Pearl as a film. I really hope one day there will be a film adaptation whether in English or in French.
I would recommend this book for fans of fantasy and historical fiction.
I received an advanced copy of the English translation of The Book of Pearl from Candlewick Publishing via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
The Book of Pearl is available now.
About the Book
Title: The Book of Pearl (Original Title: Le Livre de Perle) Author: Timothée de Fombelle Translators: Sarah Ardizzone & Sam Gordon Year Published: 2014 (English translation: 2014) Received? Netgalley Recommended ? Yes Similar to: The Little Prince by: Antoine de Saint-Exupery Pages: 368 Genres & Subjects: fiction, young adult, historical fiction, magic, fantasy, faries, romance, World War II
Where to Buy…
Amazon (United States)
Until Next Time,