I've still got lots of catching up to do and several books to tell you about, so I'll start with an easy one, Clara Beaudoux's The Madeleine Project. I had been eager to get my hands on this book from the moment I first heard about it. Imagine moving into a new house or apartment and finding a hidden journal that allows you to peek into some forgotten woman's life. I love the idea of peeking over someone else's shoulder and traveling back in time to another world. Now imagine not just finding a journal or packet of old letters but an entire room filled with bits and pieces of memorabilia kept by a woman over the course of the Twentieth Century. A treasure trove of history!
That's just what happened to Clara Beaudoux, a twenty-first century woman, who moved into a renovated Paris apartment and discovered a storage room in the basement that had never been cleared out and still contained the remnants of another woman's life. Madeleine (I'm not sure her last name was ever revealed?) died in 2012, just a year before Clara moved into her former living space.
She was a petite brunette who by all accounts was a charming, friendly woman. That's here in the photobooth photos on the book's cover. She never married, had been a teacher and loved to travel. There is hint of a romance (and maybe a little confusion over her marital status). She saved old copies of Historia and Paris Match so she must have had an enduring curiosity about history. She kept copious lists of places she had been and things she had seen. One life in a sea of many that might have simply been forgotten after her death, but now through Clara Beaudoux's efforts she has been remembered and immortalized in our modern digital age, as Clara Tweeted out Madeleine's story, beginning with her first discoveries and maybe without quite the realization of just what she had found in storage room #16.
"She died one year before I loved in, and in the meantime the apartment had been completely renovated. The cellar storage room that came with the apartment had been left in its original state, an interstice preserved from oblivion. Once I'd sawn through the padlock I could see it had been left very tidy, with everything packed away in cardboard boxes--Madeleine's life, objects, photographs, letters. For several days last November  I immersed myself in it all, and I decided to make an inventory of storage room No. 16 over Twitter, to lose myself in this fascinating puzzle of memories, to migrate from little boxes to suitcases full of documents, to allow her life and mine to mingle for a brief period."
Beaudoux Tweeted about Madeleine's live over two "seasons" bridging the terrible events of the Paris terrorist attacks of 2015. I suspect that the Madeleine Project took on a life of its own, and an initial excitement of such an interesting find that she wanted to share with others, and then realizing the extent of what she was doing--this was a real woman, and was she doing the right thing by sharing her intimate personal life with the world. The minutiae of Madeleine's life might just seem like so much "stuff", so much paraphernalia that perhaps holds no interest to anyone else except its original owner. Clara began questioning her motives and actions.
"Is it a struggle against forgetting? Against obliteration? Against death? Why am I so interested in you? When I've never done anything like this for my own grandparents who are now deceased? What will be left of us?"
Then the attacks happened and a Twitter user came across her project and told her that this peek into this woman's world "restored his faith in life". So Clara presented a season two. What began as a series of Tweets in French expanded to an English translation of the project. It was a bit of an archaeological dig to piece together Madeleine's life, all sensitively done. She Tweeted things about her life and world and shared photographs and ultimately tracked down and met a distant relative and former neighbors.
I have to admit that I have very mixed feelings about social media (though here I am online, right?), I think this is such a unique way to present (in real time) history, to make it tangible to people all over the world and is a modern biography for the 21st century. (And happily she published her Tweets, complete with all the photos and accompanying text, in book format). Although this is literally just a 'glimpse' into Madeleine's life (so it feels like her privacy has been respected, too), it is an unusual way to see early and mid-Twentieth century Paris. It is almost only a teaser, like looking into someone's scrapbook. I'm not sure I could say much about what Madeleine thought or felt, but I have a small idea of what her world might have been like. Maybe that is enough, and maybe that is all we can ask for. But it is cool that she has been remembered and her life has been shared with the world.
I'm a little sad as I requested the book from my library and now it is with a little hesitation that I must return it. Then again, all things considered, maybe this is really the best way to have 'met' Madeleine and now the book and her story will be shared with the next reader who comes across this book.