Q&A with Mamta Chaudhry, Author of Haunting Paris

If you’re looking for your next listen, look no farther than Mamta Chaudhry’s debut novel. Haunting Paris has so many layers to it—grief, memory, love, family, and history—that it’s a fantastic audiobook to lose yourself in.

We caught up with Mamta to meet the writer behind the words and to hear more about this moving novel.

Tell us a little about Haunting Paris.
It’s set in a city I fell in love with from the first moment I saw it many years ago. And I’ve always been fascinated by contrasts: just as the City of Light has its own dark shadows, I juxtaposed a time of public celebration with private mourning. In the summer of 1989, while Paris is caught up in the bicentennial festivities for Le quatorze juillet (what we call Bastille Day), Sylvie grieves for her lover, Julien, and is unable to find solace in the music that has always been her refuge. But she discovers a secret about Julien’s past: though his sister and one of her daughters perished in the Holocaust, Julien held out hope that the other daughter managed to escape, and he secretly devoted years to tracking his niece. Sylvie picks up where Julien left off, unaware that she is watched over by his ghost, who is drawn back to this world for love of her.

So it is a ghost story, a mystery, a love story, a compressed history, but most of all a love letter to the city—not a funny Valentine like Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, but as rich and deep and painful and complicated as love is in real life.

June is Audiobook Month, and we’re celebrating! Do you have a celebration ritual when you finish writing?
As Patsy and Edina say in Absolutely Fabulous, it’s “Bolly, sweetie!” The sound of that popping cork is so festive all on its own that actually drinking the bubbly seems secondary. You realize I’m kidding, right? About the secondary part?

The more productive ritual is cleaning up my office, which means excavating my desk from beneath stacks of papers, and it’s like an archaeological dig, each draft seems like a city built on the ruins of another. It’s a necessary and therapeutic ritual—I only seem to get the uncontrollable urge to tidy when I’m either putting off starting the project or when I’m actually finished. But it clears the space in my head to move onto something else.

Which characters from Haunting Paris would you invite to a summer dinner party and why?
Two summer dinner parties act as bookends to Haunting Paris. I love throwing parties and inviting people to an alfresco meal (though down here in Miami, it’s winter dinner parties because in summer the mosquitoes would carry our guests off, if the heat and humidity didn’t do them in first). But an imaginary dinner party is so much fun, and I invited characters from the book who would cook a wonderful meal (Alexandra), choose great wine (Monsieur de Cherisey), play the piano (Sylvie)…and I didn’t have to cook or clean or lift a finger, except to write it all down.

Is there a song that makes you want to get up and dance?
My music of choice is classical, and though every great composition is a celebration, they are not exactly dance tunes. So I go to Zumba, and since this is Miami, everyone else in the class seems to have been born with the nimble feet and undulating hips necessary for salsa. I love dancing to the old romantic songs best, like “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás” sung by Nat King Cole, even if I’m always a beat behind and headed in the wrong direction from everyone else. I once told the class that I write better than I dance, and one of the women said, “Good thing!”

And in honor of Audiobook Month, what’s your next audio listen, and what made you choose it?
Clearly, Haunting Paris—which is being read by Lisa Flanagan (an opera singer who speaks French…she’s tailor-made for this book) and by Daniel Oreskes (who was one of the narrators for Suite Française, a book I love). I haven’t heard the audiobook of Haunting Paris yet, but my husband stumbled across a clip of it on the Internet. We listened to it together, and there was a moment in that brief section when we both almost jumped out of our skin.

The other book I can’t wait to hear is George Saunders’s brilliant Lincoln in the Bardo. When I read it, I was reminded of an opera, where the chorus both amplifies the soloists and sets them in sharp relief. And that heartbreaking duet between father and son, it still moves me to recall it. What a feat of orchestration both for the novelist and now for the audio producer—over 150 voices, I understand. Wow!

 


LISTEN TO A CLIP oF HAUNTING PARIS:

Haunting Paris

Haunting Paris is a graceful debut from Chaudhry…revealing a finely textured world where grief and love commingle.”—Booklist

“This fine first novel explores the ways history abides in the streets and monuments of an old city, and in the human souls who love it and grieve for it and struggle to forgive it. This book is a small parable, pondering the nature of civilization itself.”—Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gilead