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
Wildflower Farm, is a small New England homestead, B&B and AirBnB, in the Baystate. We came out here 7 years ago, when we returned from the better part of 10 years as peripatetic aristotelian nomads, for my husband's post docs. Upon our return, we had a plan. We had a lovely home. Everything was so clear. Then, I got sick. Things I used to eat all the time during our travels elsewhere in the world and even here before I left almost 10 years earlier made me ill. It took a couple trips to the ER and a trip to specialist... It became clear, something had changed in the way food is processed in this country since last I lived here. Some off label things was inevitably going to be my demise.
My husband and I looked around to see the clear path we were on, had exploded in front of us. We decided we had to create a new path for ourselves. We put children on hold. We found a small piece of land with a house we loved in a rural suburb in a right to farm area. I began researching how to do it ourselves. Grow it ourselves, make it ourselves, survive on our own as much as possible. We bought the property, and began plotting a new course. One that didn't involve off label chemicals. Closer to nature, with a lot more DIY, gardens, and animals for the products they provide. We created a life we loved though it hasn't always been easy and has of course come with compromise with each other, and even with ourselves.
Our family thought we had lost our minds. What were we doing leaving the city? We had no idea how hard this would be. They thought we would be back in 6 months. That was over 7 years ago, now. We have been making it work. They were not wrong, it isn't easy. But has anything worth doing ever been easy? And for us, avoiding as much store bought food as possible was simply necessary so I could live given how sick I was getting.
Then Covid hit.... We were lucky to have this place. It has allowed us a lot less need for public use territories which has kept us a lot safer and spared us much of the risk others face daily. This place, has given us a privilege through this of great meaning to us. To be of use in a difficult time. We have been able to help friends family and even strangers in need when things couldn't be found on store shelves. Or money was tight due to not working, rent being due and a child at home, or some other draining situation. We are so very grateful to have been able to not be helpless like so much of society through this miserable time. Our families, got used to it some time ago, us being out here. They made peace with it the day there was no bread and they had to ask me for some. Or when fresh vegies were rotten due to supply chain issues but they could find plenty in my garden.
Wildflower Farm, was a place I dreamed of. One of those sweet pastoral dreams a city dweller grows up knowing will never come true, that became unavoidable when I became ill. I never expected to get to do this. I never thought I had what it takes to make this work. I have learned pacing myself is important, compromise is critical, hard work never ends, burn out is real so breaks are just a necessary evil.
We are not fully self sufficient, but we work hard in that direction as we create a new path through life for ourselves, always reaching to do even more ourselves and to get closer to the ideal we envision. We are however far more self sufficient than many in this world. 7 years in, we continue to learn and grow in this homesteading lifestyle. We welcome comments and advice and ideas and questions.
We welcome visitors from all over to our home with strict covid policies in place. We spend our time learning to live all over again in a more environmental and sustainable way though even there we are far from perfect always learning and growing doing better as we know better.
This little homestead farm is a magical place named for the New England wildflowers that grow all around. A place where a physicist, watches the night sky on clear nights with the aide of mirror and glass, and a woman, works endlessly in the gardens, the kitchen, and a variety of projects to create and to keep a very unique life style running and functioning. Wildflower Farm, has become so much more than simply a piece of land we can grow a few vegetables on. The longer I spend here, the more alive the land seems, the more I learn about it's function and the more meaning it has. My place in the universe and the next steps on our new path become ever more clear.
We welcome you on this journey with us.