Tour the Paris haunts of intellectual giants

Author Agnes Poirier wrote The Left Bank
Agnès Poirier takes a look at her book while taking Sally Ann Voak on a tour of the intellectual hotspots of Paris

The complex lives – and loves – of the extraordinary group of intellectuals who lived in Paris between 1940 and 1950 have been revealed in a new book. Its author Agnès Poirier gives Sally Ann Voak a guided tour of their favourite haunts...

Dozens of articles and biographies have been published about literary, art and music icons Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, Pablo Picasso, Juliette Gréco and Miles Davis.

Until now, little has been revealed about how their lives, and those of other creative people who lived on the Paris Left Bank during and after the Second World War, became intertwined.

They formed liaisons, had affairs, drank and partied, yet produced brilliant books, plays, music and art.

How did they manage it?

A new book provides some of the answers and a wealth of fascinating detail about that period. Written, in English, by French journalist and author Agnes Poirier, the 350-page book pulls no punches and reads like a racy novel – with intimate details about their sex lives, intrigues, feuds and friendships.

Ms Poirier also explores the dangers these legendary figures faced during the Occupation, often together, and how their politics were shaped.

“I knew that these people were all in Paris at about the same time and must have been in contact,” she said.

“I was intrigued. The danger, the sex, the drugs, the drinking – how on earth could they live like that and produce such amazing books, paintings, plays, and music? I wanted to join the dots!”

Ms Poirier worked on the book for three years.

The result is a wholly satisfying read: densely-packed with anecdotes, dates, facts and intimate stories. Every detail had to be meticulously researched and those dots joined up very carefully.

“It was an ordeal,” she confessed. “I spent a year on research, another to sort it all out then get the first draft down on paper, the third to cut and rewrite. It nearly killed me!”

She was well-equipped to take on the task. Born in Paris, she studied history at the Sorbonne, political sciences and Russian at Sciences Po in Paris. Aged 22, she gained a place at the ...

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