cover image The Seine: The River That Made Paris

The Seine: The River That Made Paris

Elaine Sciolino. Norton, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-393-60935-6

In this entertaining and informative travel memoir, former New York Times Paris bureau chief Sciolino (The Only Street in Paris) explores France’s celebrated river, the Seine. “In the spring of 1978 I was seduced by a river,” writes Sciolino, who then describes the Seine as “the most romantic river in the world” and explains how it has served as a strategic waterway in times of war (it slowed Hitler’s retreat after D-Day) and peace (it was an important shipping route for the Romans). She ventures to its inauspicious source in Burgundy—a “little hole in a man-made limestone grotto in the middle of nowhere”—and is inspired by the fable of the Gallo-Roman “healing goddess” Sequana for whom the river was named. Following its course, she meets a fourth-generation grape grower in Champagne; rowers who preserve historic boats; the River Brigade, who are “just like Miami Vice, no?”; and an elderly barge-woman mourning her landlocked retirement. Anecdotes abound of the bridges that cross the Seine in Paris, seasonal sand-and-palm-tree “beaches,” and “bouqinistes... the literary gatekeepers” who sell books beside the river. In a timely afterword following the 2019 fire at Notre Dame, she writes, “On the night of the great fire, the river was the cathedral’s salvation,” providing half the water used to douse the blaze. Sciolino’s enthusiasm buoys readers in this fluid literary work. (Nov.)