Paris has been a fountain of inspiration for generations of authors for centuries. This magnificent city can stimulate writers to create great works as well as served as a terrifically engaging setting for their stories. These three staff picks, one non-fiction and the other two fiction, are great examples of how the magic of Paris can enlighten an author's work.
Mission to Paris, by Alan Furst
Mission to Paris, the most recent book by the increasingly popular espionage-fiction writer Alan Furst, continues Furst's pattern of setting his stories in European cities during the years immediately prior to World War II. The intriguing main character Fredric Stahl has developed a very successful career as a leading actor of romantic roles in Hollywood during the 1930's. Arriving in Paris in the fall of 1938, he is there solely to make a movie. However, he becomes, quite unwittingly, a pawn between the pro-Germany propaganda machine gaining strength in France and other sections of Europe and the anti-Nazi camp led by the American and British. At first, Stahl has no interest in joining either of these political factions. But, as he gains a clearer realization of the evils of Nazism, he is drawn into the conflicts of that time in Paris. Paris, described so well by Furst, is the perfect setting for this intrigue. The cobbled streets, grand hotels, and so many other Parisian sights all become vivid backdrops for Stahl's adventures. Mission to Paris is fun, enjoyable reading with the attractions of Paris in the prewar years adding great charm to the story. Also, this is a great introduction to Furst's series of historical spy novels for those who have not read his books and want to explore more of his writing.
The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain
Of all the great writers associated with Paris, Ernest Hemingway certainly is one of the most noted. Paula McClain's wildly successful novel The Paris Wife is a fictionalized retelling of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway's first wife, and her life with the author, most of which was spent in Paris as he was trying to establish himself as a writer. Born in St. Louis, Hadley lived a somewhat sheltered life until she met the charmingly charismatic Ernest Hemingway on a trip to Chicago. The young Hemingway had already determined that a career as a writer was his true goal. They courted, married and the set out to establish a life for themselves in Paris in the 1920's. Not too long after their arrival, Hadley and Ernest has integrated themselves into the fabled world of Parisian writers that included Gertrude Stein, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and many others.
McLain skillfully transports her readers into wonderful Parisian scenes: cafes filled with aspiring writers, cozy restaurants featuring wonderful Parisian cuisine, endless walks around charmingly beautiful Paris and trips into the French countryside. Life with the temperamental Hemingway was so often a challenge for Hadley. Their marriage eventually developed many stresses and strains. Finally, Hadley realizes she cannot live with such difficulties in her and their child's life and she separates from Hemingway as the way to ensure her own survival.
The Paris Wife is a terrifically readable, interesting and well-written story. McLain makes the Parisian world inhabited by Hadley and Ernest Hemingway come vividly alive. In an afterword, McLain tells the reader about the motivation and research techniques she used to write this fiction-stylized version of Hadley's life. This can enrich the enjoyment of reading The Paris Wife.
Paris: A Love Story, by Kati Marton
For so many, Paris is a magical location for its sightseeing, cuisine, historical importance and romance. Katie Marton captures the romantic Paris wonderfully in her touching memoir Paris: A Love Story. As a young television reporter stationed in various locales within Europe beginning in the late 1970's, she covered many big stories, ie. the return of the Ayatollah Khomeini to Iran from France in 1979. In this position, she met and had, at times, a tempestuous romance with the noted television news anchor Peter Jennings, much of which took place in Paris. They eventually married and had two children. Marton details this relationship, which at times was challenged by their work schedules and professional egos. Eventually they divorced and Marton went on to marry Richard Holbrooke, who carved out a very successful career for himself as an American diplomat, who tried to solve many challenging international situations. Among his assignments, Holbrooke was involved in trying to achieve a peace in the Balkan fighting of the 1990's and the Afghanistan crisis in the early 21st Century. Again, Paris was the city in which Marton and Holbrooke's courtship and marriage was centered.
After Holbrooke's death in 2010, Marton again returns to Paris, the scene of so much love and happiness in her life, and tries to renew her ability to live a contented life. Marton is quite moving as she tells the readers how Paris gave her the comfort to achieve this goal so she could move on and become adjusted to her personal loss. Paris: A Love Story is very well written and is highly recommended.