Black Elk in Paris

I haven’t quite made up my mind about Black Elk in Paris by Kate Hornsley; perhaps I need to let it simmer in my mind for a while. I grabbed in from the library shelf on a complete whim, barely skimming the summary. I expected it to be a look at “cultures in contact,” and I am trying to broaden my horizons.

I’m still not completely sure what the book is about. On a plot level it is told from the perspective of French doctor Philippe Normand, detailing the strange friendship he and his patient’s daughter Madou form with Black Elk. The setting is Paris on the brink of the 1888 Exposition.

For a lot of the book I was torn with whether or not I liked it. Certainly it was interesting, but I didn’t necessarily feel invested in the characters and something in the writing style kept tempting me to skim. I think part of the problem is that Hornsley tries to say too much, giving the book an abstractly philosophical tone with no distinct moral. She emphasizes the questionable nature of period medical practices, both in efficacy and morality, but also touches briefly on class inequalities. Much is made of the age’s cynicism, with outlets both in hedonism and religion.

In the last chapter, however, for some reason things suddenly clicked for me and I would up feeling mcuh more benevolent towards the book than I intended. She did a nice job wrapping everything up, and even brought a smile to my face.

My distaste for cynicism is at war with my francophone tendencies, but I must admit my interest was piqued.  I think Murder on the Eiffel Tower is set at the same time. I will have to see if the library has it when I return this one.

Published in: on June 6, 2009 at 11:21 pm  Comments (2)  
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  1. […] work some mysteries back in. This actually is translated from French, and has the same setting as Black Elk in Paris, the 1888 Exposition. <a […]

  2. […] far this year I’ve already read two books set at the 1889 Paris World’s Fair, Black Elk in Paris and Murder on the Eiffel Tower, so I figured I would round it out with The Paris Enigma by Pablo de […]

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