A Somerville writer acquaintance of mine took me to task recently for using the phrase “The Paris of New England” to refer to Somerville. He said anyone who would compare Somerville to Paris has not been to Paris. And he is right, I haven’t been to Paris. So I was a glad to meet Somerville resident Thomas R. Bransten at meeting of the Somerville Bagel Bards. Bransten was in Paris working as a reporter for the United Press International and the International Herald Tribune where he covered among other things the protracted French war with Algeria, and two kidnappings: one of four year old Eric Peugeot, heir to the automobile fortune, and the kidnap-murder of seven year old Philippe Bertrand, which had most of the world in a state of shock and outrage. The novel Bransten wrote A Slight Case of Guilt also involves a kidnapping of a young boy from a prominent family.
Bransten has lived in Somerville for a number of years and moved from San Francisco to Massachusetts with his wife so she could pursue her PhD at Harvard. For a long while he was an agent of Prudential Prime Properties in Somerville, run by Somerville native sons John and Jim Duccelli. Bransten lauds the civic spirit of Somerville, and its easy accessibility to Boston and the outlying environs.
Bransten, 81, went to France in 1959 “To look for a woman I thought I was in love with,” he said. He studied psychology at the Sorbonne, but realized he needed to make a decent living when he started a family. So he decided to try journalism, and after striking out numerous times he managed to secure an unpaid internship of sorts with the International Herald Tribune.
Eventually he was offered a job on the night shift, where he worked from 11PM to 10AM—6 days a week. Later he graduated to the day desk—and went on to write many important stories.
Bransten recalled his days covering the Algerian War for Independence from France. Not only did Algerian rebels commit terrorist acts in Algeria, but they bombed cafes and buildings in Paris. Bransten told me he was minutes away from being killed by a bomb planted outside the offices of the newspaper Le Monde. Because he got sidetracked, he missed walking by the building by minutes.
His novel “A Slight Case of Guilt” is loosely based on a kidnapping that took place during his stint as a journalist in France. For the purpose of the novel it is set in the Burgundy wine country where a young heir to the Ville De Courtray fortune is abducted.
Bransten will be having a reading of his novel at the Book Shop at Ball Square Feb 24, 2013 1P.M, smack dab in the Paris of New England.