book review · historical fiction

Book Review: Conventions: The Garden at Paris by R. J. Nello

After U.S independence, twenty- one year old Robert travels to Europe to expand family business. The warm reception from pre- war associates of his father in France and England, draws Robert into life in France and in England. The unexpected onset of revolution in France challenges young American and brings experience that he had never expected. Conventions: The Garden at Paris is a romantic drama set in the chaotic times.

nelloThe story follows young American, who goes on the journey to unknown land of Europe. Being away from home continues for many years, during which Robert encounters different ways of life, different cultures and traditions. American pragmatic approach to religion contrasts the irrationality of Catholicism in Europe. France’s rigid and ancient social order, especially approach to commoners is different from what Robert got used to in America. And, there is difference between Americans and French in terms of social relations, including marriage. I really appreciate the structure of the book. Different experiences are described in letters exchanged between characters. It is very smart way to deliver the story and to keep the reader engaged.

During his trip Robert falls in love twice, loses his mother, and tries to survive the turmoil of the French Revolution. Whole range of experiences leads Robert to maturity. At first, Robert seems rather boring character and it is not certain how he might develop. However, at some point he surprises the reader by getting involved into fight with Jacobins to defend his beloved Carolina. Robert shocks again when he kills Irishman in a duel! In fact, Robert is the best shot! Besides, he deals quite well in critical and stressful situations. After all, he is not as boring as seems to be on the beginning. In fact, there is something in this young man that makes him charming and likeable. Maybe his good matters, approach to women, conversional skills, or simply good heart.

The author achieved a perfect balance between Robert’s love drama and history. Personal story is enriched by the consequences of the French Revolution, relations between America, Britain and France. Moreover, the story contains a mixture of real historical figures and fictional ones. The way Nello introduced those themes and characters shows how much research was done to create a detailed reality.

And, women! Robert’s life turns around young and beautiful women. Robert did not expect to meet in France women of particular status to be approachable and bold. In contrast, American women were not included in men’s political discussions and certainly not during a meal. In France women such as Marie- Therese freely joined conversations about politics. As Robert observed, some of French women were “surprisingly excellent thinkers on government”. No doubt, the author did a great job in constructing strong female characters. They are confident, they know what they want, and they get what they want. In contrast to older generations, young women such Carolina seek love in their marriages and not simply an arrangement. As a reader I easily became attached to these characters. Probably because I deeply admire books portraying strong women.

Short chapters give vigour to the story making reading more pleasant experience. Interesting titles in English and French give hints about characters and experiences, which arises curiosity.

Very well written. I enjoyed how easy this book was to follow. I would recommend it to everyone who likes the combination of love drama and history.

The overall rating: 5/5



Conventions: The Garden at Paris is fourth novel of R. J. Nello, who was born in New York and has been living in The Great Britain.





Other novels:
Passports: Atlantic Lives, 1994-1995
Frontiers: Atlantic Lives, 1995-1996
Distances: Atlantic Lives, 1996-1997

Be aware you might become an inspiration for Nello’s next book, as he says “always holding “auditions”- so be careful or you may end up a character in “1797”… and perhaps an evil one”

You can also find R.J. Nello on Instagram: rjnello

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