BURNING PARIS IS set in two different time flames, one historical and the other contemporary. After the disastrous Battle of Sedan in September 1870, Marine Lieutenant Paul-Antoine Brunel manages to break into Paris through the Prussian siege to tell his president that Metz – and, by implication, the rest of the country – is in danger of falling unless decisive and immediate action is taken; none is. Brunel subsequently becomes a key figure in the Paris Commune, and shares in the fate of the capital’s inhabitants as they refuse to agree to the surrender of their country. Under attack from his own compatriots and besieged in his own city, Brunel embarks on a passionate affair with Babette, a local restaurateur. When he fails to protect her zealous son from the fighting he is overwhelmed with guilt and leaves to spend the rest of his life teaching French across the Channel.