The Perfume Thief
The Perfume Thief By Timothy Schaffert
The Perfume thief, was really fun to do as a book club book. I am so grateful to Mr. Schaffert, for this book that took us back to another time and to another place. I at least was truly transported to the Bordellos of France, 1941, during the German occupation.
All of us, had a difficult time with this book at points. Mainly, because of the way the suffering and cruelty of that period were written about, with the entirity of the tale being told through the ambiance painted by a truly brilliant writer… It was hard not to find yourself there and at times it was just so dark, that you really wanted to be anywhere else. And yet, you can’t look away because the suffering and horror, violence and cruelty must never be forgotten. Because if they ever are forgotten, humanity will repeat the the most horrid acts we as human beings have ever engaged in.
The story, is about a thief from Kentucky, who flees for France for her own reasons, to escape her own trail of horror before it can truly and fully catch up with her. In so doing, she leaves behind the man she loves, M. They are part of a very special club in New York, in a time when they are viewed differently than they are today, because they are more comfortable in men’s clothes and identify as lesbians, or some version of trans. They are the ones who feel God, got it wrong. But that doesn’t make them incapable of love. It means their love is just as deep and meaningful as anyone else’s maybe more so in a time when women had a duty to fulfill no matter how they identified. And so M, had to return to his Mr. and eventually bore that Mr. a child. And they wrote for many many years the perfume thief and M… Their love transcended continents.
Fragrances and empty bottles for perfume making.
Then the Nazis invaded. They brought with them malicious cruelty and horror beyond measure. Everyone just did what they could to survive. The people of Paris were starving, the jewish population was being hunted and carted off to camps where they were tortured and killed. And Clem, the perfume thief, like everyone else is just trying to get herself and those she loves through it. She has retired from the game. She is 70 something and all she wants now is to go to ground and hide taking those she loves with her as deep under as possible where the brutality can not reach them. But truly, during that time period in that place, no such depth existed that was that deep. A very important cabaret singer asks Clem for help obtaining an old book of perfume recipes from her childhood home after her father goes missing. Clem, builds a relationship with one of the nazis trying to save the soul of Paris, the couture fashion and the fragrance poetry most importantly. He believes there could be more to some of Paris’s most important fragrances than meets the eye, so he too is looking for the book… To get close to this nazi, Clem, must share secrets about her past, always just enough to keep him interested in her till she can get what she wants from him for the cabaret singer so she can then leave Paris to try to find somewhere safe.In the process of trying to save this cabaret singer, Clem, will find herself working with the French Resistance. I could keep going… But I really really don’t want to wreck this sexy and dark tale of Paris. I loved it. This has to be one of my favorite book club books to date. But not everyone shared my opinion. Historically, I have always made and even sold hand made fragrances, usually in soap or body lotion, but I have made some simple perfumes as well among other things. For me, this book was rich and full of texture. I felt like I knew the characters because the fragrances associated told me so much about them. For others, they felt like some part of the characters often got lost in the descriptions of ambiance over character description. I think for them, it must have been a bit like reading The Great Gatsby, was for me back in high-school. I hated it. The characters I felt had no depth. but then, wasn’t that the point? No one in that story was anything beyond their monetary status. For some, they had trouble digesting character in the way it was written in this novel. For me personally, the characters were so well developed that certain points in the book moved me to literal tears. I couldn’t put it down.
More importantly for me, this book offered me as a book club manager, a lot to work with and play with. I always try to bring our reads to life. Some books offer more to work with than others. For example, the previous book was brilliant, but there was no way to really recreate any aspects of London Below, on a small farm in New England. With this book, I had oodles to draw on. There are all kinds of wonderful videos from the time period that I shared on our facebook page for all our book club members. Even old video of cabaret in Paris from the 1940s during the occupation. Videos of the invasion and the war, Information and videos about perfume and fashion and how people lived through this period and so much more. There is so much online preserved about Paris in this time period. So I just went to town collecting and sharing it.
At our meeting, we had croissants, Macarons, and french wine, among other foods. Most importantly, I broke out my crafting equiptment and all my fragrances and a bunch of perfume bottles… I wrote an old music cipher, and coded names of different fragrances that I pull directly from the book onto music paper, and before anyone could make a perfume they had to decode the music notation that contained that perfume’s name. Then they would try to make a fragrance that would fit that decoded name. We gave each other our the perfumes we made that way. And then, we all made ourselves a special bottle of perfume just for us. It was really really fun. And I can not express how wonderfully it pulled our book club together and how much more engaged I have noticed everyone getting. I have this book to thank for being a major icebreaker for our club. The activity really pulled us all closer together. I love when that happens.
We had a great discussion and a lot of fun, and great snacks. And now we are on to the next book. The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie.
Thank you Mr. Schaffert. The experience we had with your book as a club, was truly fantastic. You are truly an artist of the first order. I aspire to be able to do what you do, and yet, I know, I will never hold a candle to what you have produced in this novel. You are another one I would love to talk with. So many questions…
This is a book we all enjoyed but I might have enjoyed the most. Maybe it’s because I was the one who got to create the magic from the magic this wonderful author gave me.
Thank you for reading
Amanda of Wildflower Farm