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Louvre

Josselin Guillois

(Éditions du Seuil, 256 pages, 2019)

  *** PRE-EMPTED IN ITALIAN TO GARZANTI ***

Paris, Summer 1939. France is about to declare war on Germany, and Jacques Jaujard, Director of the French National Museums, conducts the massive evacuation of the Louvre’s art collections. The Raft of the Medusa, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Mona Lisa, and countless other artworks are whisked away by every possible means to distant castles scattered throughout the French countryside. In his debut novel, Louvre, Josselin Guillois recounts these dramatic events in the diaries of three women—Marcelle, Carmen, and Jeanne—each of whom, in her own way, contributes to this complex and perilous venture.

As the German armies overrun northern Europe, Marcelle, Jaujard’s wife, witnesses her husband’s race against the clock. But she is wildly distracted by her obsessive desire for a child. Carmen is Jaujard’s fourteen-year-old goddaughter. Her parents, both curators, are tasked with protecting the masterpieces sent to the Chambord Castle, one of the first evacuation sites. A girl in the throes of puberty, Carmen is confronted with the signs of an encroaching war reaching their bucolic haven while anxiously monitoring the changes in her body. The former promising actress, Jeanne—unmarried and recovering from an abortion—now works for the Resistance. Thanks to her fluency in German, she is hired as an archivist at the Louvre, which has been put under the supervision of the prominent Nazi ideologue, Alfred Rosenberg.

Each diary sheds a different light on the Louvre’s remarkable wartime saga: Marcelle irreverently exposes the tragicomic aspects of the evacuation; Carmen discovers the power of art in her own intimate way; and Jeanne interweaves the personal and the political. Jaujard may be the pivotal figure of this novel, but he is not its central character. Guillois’ three heroines are women of flesh and blood confronting their own personal circumstances while responding to the challenges of their times.

Louvre is freely inspired by true events, and real-life historical figures. Torn away from their home, the works of art—the iconic as well as the overlooked ones—embark on an adventure of their own. With vivacity and humor, Guillois imagines the effect these dislodged masterpieces had on those who would not have had the opportunity to see them otherwise.

 

Josselin Guillois was born in 1986. Louvre is his first novel.