15 Paris Books

From Vogue: "What begins as a jewel-box romance soon breaks open into a harrowing saga of war. Orringer . . . conveys a piercing sense of what it means to be fated by one’s blood." When a Hungarian-Jewish architecture student arrives in Paris with a letter he promised to deliver, he unwittingly begins a complicated relationship with its recipient. Spanning 1937 to 1945 in both Paris and Budapest, this historical fiction debut explores Hungary’s role as allies to Germany during WWII.
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Best-known for The Traitor's Wife, Pataki has a reputation for writing excellent historical fiction. In her newest, she tackles the French Revolution with the help of her brother Owen Pataki. Tracing the effects of the Revolution and Terror on the lives of two linked Frenchman, Pataki explores courage, democracy, and love, while emphasizing why the Revolution's lessons remain important today. Featuring cameos from pillars of history such as Louis XVI, Robespierre, and Thomas-Alexandre Dumas.
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This 2004 novel's backstory is fascinating and heartbreaking: novelist Irène Némirovsky, a French-Ukrainian, was arrested in 1942; her crime was being Jewish. The manuscript survived, unread and hidden in an old suitcase, even after she was captured and killed at Auschwitz. Her daughters had the manuscript for years, not knowing what they possessed, but in 1998 finally opened the manuscript, not finding the journals they expected, but the novellas that became Suite Français. This is possibly the earliest work of fiction about World War II. Translated by Sandra Smith.
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For fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, this epistolary novel tells the story of a great romance. When the Great War begins, Evie believes (as do many others), that it will all be over by Christmas. As her brother Will and his friend Thomas leave for the front, they make plans to meet for a holiday in Paris when the war is resolved. As time passes, Evie feels helpless and struggles to find a way to help the cause, while Will and Thomas experience the trials and terrors of war. The letters between Evie and Thomas are candid and heartfelt. Though the title is Christmas-y, this book is actually wonderful for any time of year, so add it to your reading list at any time.
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This historical fantasy set in 1899 Paris is part heist, part treasure hunt—with a crew of friends at its center. In this world, the Order of Babel rules. Some people are divinely gifted with Forging affinities, allowing them to change or enhance creation. Séverin, the denied heir of House Vanth, delights in reclaiming the items sold off from his House and tracking down Order items for those who will pay him. He’s capably assisted by Zofia, Laila, Tristan, and Enrique. As thrilling as it is to read about their adventures, read this for the way they look out for one another.
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Pavone is back with the exciting second installment of the Kate Moore series. It's a day like any other in Paris or so everyone thinks until a massive terrorist attack begins. But Kate soon realizes things are not what they seem and somehow the truth involves her family. You'll race through the pages of this espionage thriller!
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If you're the type that tends to over-romanticize the City of Lights, let David Lebovitz snap you back to reality. As an American expat who chose to move to France, he loves Paris—but he also has no qualms about exposing the ridiculous, baffling, and frustrating side of le France. (I still laugh when I think of his claim that he didn't REALLY feel like he belonged until the day he put on dress pants and a freshly ironed shirt to take out the trash). Lebovitz's niche is food writing, and while you'll hear plenty of stories of navigating the city, you'll also find food on nearly every page. Plan to be inspired to make (or at least eat) French favorites like warm goat cheese salad, chocolate mousse, and macarons. A perfect read for those who have lived in Paris, been to Paris, or just want a good laugh.
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Baldwin's iconic novel explores desire, love, and identity in 1950s Paris. James Baldwin draws on his own Parisian experiences and travels and constructs the most beautiful sentences. The story follows David, a young American in Paris whose girlfriend just left him. Following her absence, he explores his own sexuality and grapples with modern masculinity, social expectations, and guilt. There's so much to unpack in such a short classic.
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Child was 36 when her husband's job necessitated a move to Paris a few years after WWII. This is the story of how she fell in love with the city and its cuisine—and it all began with the restlessness she experienced upon arrival. Child found herself at loose ends in the city, with no job or other obligations, and so began she began shopping the French markets, falling in love with the French approach to food, and finally enrolling in cooking classes at Le Cordon Bleu. This joyful memoir is full of life: Julia’s tales will entertain, inspire, and make you laugh out loud.
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This glittering novel of the Paris Opera is full of drama, intrigue, and secrets, and features a memorable main character. Lilliet Berne (inspired by the real-life opera singer Jenny Lind) is the leading soprano, the best of the best and a shining star. She craves an original role, but when one is finally offered to her, she's shocked to find it's based on a secret from her past—a secret that only four people know. Who could have betrayed her? Seeking the truth in her memories, she recalls her life as an orphan and the countless transformations she underwent along the way to beginning her opera career. The book is thoroughly grounded in its 19th century Parisian setting, and almost reads like a novel from that era. (Though be warned: Chee doesn't use quotation marks!)
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This French novel has been languishing on my TBR list for a few years. It was first published in its home country in 2005 and in the United States in 2008 (as a gorgeous Europa edition). The critics love it: notably, it was longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award for Fiction in 2009. My readerly friends are split: some love it, some hate it, some say it's over their heads. I intend to read it for myself. (I've been warned to not give up until Mr. Ozu shows up.)
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A finalist for the 2011 Man Booker Prize. Edugyan's historical fiction story spans WWII Paris and 1952 Berlin, but the vivid depiction of salons, cafés, and jazz clubs lands this novel on the Paris list. The Hot Time Swingers are about to make it big when the Nazis forbid them to play. Hieronymus Falk, their star trumpet player, is arrested and never heard from again. Falk was Black, a German citizen, and considered a musical genius at the age of 20. Years later, Falk's band members take a journey from Berlin to Paris, revealing the intricacies of the events leading up to Falk's arrest.
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The best part of Hemingway's classic memoir may be the setting: 1920s Paris. In this series of sketches, Hemingway remembers what it was like to be a young, struggling artist in Paris during that time, surrounded by a host of literary greats including Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Beach, Ezra Pound ... the list goes on. The prose is quintessential Hemingway: spare and precise, with every word pulling its weight. (No wonder so many writers cite this slim volume as a favorite.) Pick this up if you want to feel city life leaping from the page.
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A dual timeline story based on the librarians at the American Library during WWII. In 1939 Paris, Odile has a dream job at the library when Nazis march into Paris. She joins the Resistance with her fellow librarians but she’s staggered by betrayal before the war ends. In 1983 Montana, Odile is befriended by her teen neighbor and reluctantly begins to share about her past, leading to an unexpected connection.
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As a foodie memoir devotee, I thoroughly enjoyed this. Journalist Ann Mah moves to Paris when her diplomat husband is given a three-year assignment there. She's overjoyed at the opportunity until he's reassigned to Iraq for a year-long solo stint and must figure out life in Paris on her own. And so she does, one pain au chocolat and boeuf Bourguignon at a time.
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