The Safe House: A Novel

University of Chicago Press
Free sample


In Paris’s exclusive Saint-Germain neighborhood is a mansion. In that mansion lives a family. Deep in that mansion. The Bolts are that family, and they have secrets. The Safe House tells their story.

When the Nazis came, Étienne Boltanski divorced his wife and walked out the front door, never to be seen again during the war. So far as the outside world knew, the Jewish doctor had fled. The truth was that he had sneaked back to hide in a secret crawl space at the heart of the house. There he lived for the duration of the war. With the Liberation, Étienne finally emerged, but he and his family were changed forever—anxious, reclusive, yet proudly eccentric. Their lives were spent, amid Bohemian disarray and lingering wartime fears, in the mansion’s recesses or packed comically into the protective cocoon of a Fiat.

That house (and its vehicular appendage) are at the heart of Christophe Boltanski’s ingeniously structured, lightly fictionalized account of his grandparents and their extended family. The novel unfolds room by room—each chapter opening with a floorplan— introducing us to the characters who occupy each room, including the narrator’s grandmother--a woman of “savage appetites”--and his uncle Christian, whose haunted artworks would one day make him famous. “The house was a palace,” Boltanski writes, “and they lived like hobos.” Rejecting convention as they’d rejected the outside world, the family never celebrated birthdays, or even marked the passage of time, living instead in permanent stasis, ever more closely bonded to the house itself.

The Safe House was a literary sensation when published in France in 2015 and won the Prix de Prix, France’s most prestigious book prize. With hints of Oulipian playfulness and an atmosphere of dark humor, The Safe House is an unforgettable portrait of a self-imprisoned family.
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About the author

Christophe Boltanski is an award-winning journalist who reported for Libération from London, Jerusalem, and the Gulf War. The Safe House is his first novel. Laura Marris is a poet, essayist, and translator. She has been a MacDowell Colony fellow, and her translation of Louis Guilloux's Le Sang noir is forthcoming from the New York Review Books.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Oct 16, 2017
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Pages
240
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ISBN
9780226449227
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Language
English
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Genres
Fiction / General
Fiction / Literary
History / Europe / France
History / Military / World War II
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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The #1 bestseller that tells the remarkable story of the generations of American artists, writers, and doctors who traveled to Paris, the intellectual, scientific, and artistic capital of the western world, fell in love with the city and its people, and changed America through what they learned, told by America’s master historian, David McCullough.

Not all pioneers went west.

In The Greater Journey, David McCullough tells the enthralling, inspiring—and until now, untold—story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, and others who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900, hungry to learn and to excel in their work. What they achieved would profoundly alter American history.

Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in America, was one of this intrepid band. Another was Charles Sumner, whose encounters with black students at the Sorbonne inspired him to become the most powerful voice for abolition in the US Senate. Friends James Fenimore Cooper and Samuel F. B. Morse worked unrelentingly every day in Paris, Morse not only painting what would be his masterpiece, but also bringing home his momentous idea for the telegraph. Harriet Beecher Stowe traveled to Paris to escape the controversy generated by her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Three of the greatest American artists ever—sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, painters Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent—flourished in Paris, inspired by French masters.

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Telling their stories with power and intimacy, McCullough brings us into the lives of remarkable men and women who, in Saint-Gaudens’ phrase, longed “to soar into the blue.
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