27 Beats per Minute

In a silenced Paris, in the calm of a city spellbound by a pandemic, the protagonist of 27 Beats per Minute reflects on the pillars of his existence and the matters that have shaped him. Through his reflections, the reader is transported across the city, taking in European literature and history along the way. ‘I walk through the streets and alleys, aimlessly and without direction, in this alienating setting. The city is entranced by Covid-19 and me by my mind’s musings.’

Henk Pröpper
Original title
Hartslag 27

Pröpper’s mental journey begins in the spring of 2020, when recovering from major heart surgery, he walks through the empty Paris streets. The city is in lockdown, and Pröpper takes short walks in the hour a day that Parisians are allowed outside within a one-and-a-half kilometre radius of their homes. But the emptiness of the streets does not mean that there is nothing to see, on the contrary. In his immediate vicinity he discovers memorial plaques, monuments and statues which honour and commemorate famous and less famous Parisians. They form a kind of library, filled with stories and memories that are triggered. He reflects on his own life, remembers books that strongly affected him, and searches for the keynotes of his existence.

First of all, that has been literature: the children’s books he devoured as a boy, then the books of Maigret, and later those of Balzac, Hugo and Flaubert. Associations and thoughts alternate, memories arise, observations and feelings are shared: on the attraction of the big city; the soulless ruin that once was the magnificent Notre Dame; Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony; a Louise Bourgois artwork in the Tuileries. The Second World War, which determined and shaped Pröpper’s way of thinking, makes him reflect on commitment, courage and betrayal. And so the reader accompanies the writer through Paris’s present and past: meanderingly contemplative, searching for joie de vivre, eloquent and extremely erudite, but averse to pretension and with a subtle sense of humour.

He speaks to no one, everything is reduced to its essence. He is a sick man, confronted with decay and upheaval, who must face his own vulnerability. This is precisely why he seeks solace in the beauty of the city, and in that of literature. The power of literature allows him to make an urgent appeal to the reader: Pröpper urges independent and original thinking, which makes this essay, though very personal, anything but limited to one man’s view.

This finely-cut gem compels one’s admiration.


A concise masterpiece about a tumultuous year.

Vrij Nederland
Henk Pröpper
Henk Pröpper (b. 1958) is the author of the novel 'The Crab’s Sword' and of numerous essays. For forty years he has written about the literature and culture of France, the country where he worked as a diplomat and director of the Institut Néerlandais.
Part ofNon-Fiction
Share page