Social historian Mary McAuliffe presents in this book a portrait so detailed about the events of this decade, I now feel as though I lived it.
Although of course I expected to read about the names listed in the subtitle, I had no idea how truly concentrated this era and specifically, the Montparnasse area of Paris, was with respect to new developments in architecture, music, dance, art, fashion, automobile design and production and more.
What the Americans called “The Roaring Twenties” was known in France as “Les Années Folles”–the crazy years. And crazy they were, with competitions between players on every front: who (Citroen or Renault) will come up with the best car design; whose (Coty or Chanel) perfume scent and sales will top the other; which film maker (Man Ray or Cocteau) will stun the audience more? Never mind: Josephine Baker took top prize in that department, on stage, at least.
Occasionally I felt there was too much information; descriptions of dalliances and divorces seemed endless. But just when I wanted to skim pages, I realized I couldn’t. I didn’t know Coco Chanel had designed costumes for the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo, nor that Picasso did set design. And what about Madame Curie advising her daughter not to wear makeup? And how Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau kept his wartime word to soldiers who presented him with flowers at a dark time during World War I. He said he would take them to his grave, and indeed, they were buried with him, in 1929.
This is a history book filled with facts about arguably the most dynamic and free-wheeling decade in the 20th century. It’s a biography of a time and place, and of unforgettable characters. It’s a novel–except it’s all true. It’s a work of art.