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Paris Was Ours: Thirty-two Writers Reflect on the City of Light [Kindle Edition]

Penelope Rowlands
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Paris is “the world capital of memory and desire,” concludes one of the writers in this intimate and insightful collection of memoirs of the city. Living in Paris changed these writers forever.

In thirty-two personal essays—more than half of which are here published for the first time—the writers describe how they were seduced by Paris and then began to see things differently. They came to write, to cook, to find love, to study, to raise children, to escape, or to live the way it’s done in French movies; they came from the United States, Canada, and England; from Iran, Iraq, and Cuba; and—a few—from other parts of France. And they stayed, not as tourists, but for a long time; some are still living there. They were outsiders who became insiders, who here share their observations and revelations. Some are well-known writers: Diane Johnson, David Sedaris, Judith Thurman, Joe Queenan, and Edmund White. Others may be lesser known but are no less passionate on the subject.

Together, their reflections add up to an unusually perceptive and multifaceted portrait of a city that is entrancing, at times exasperating, but always fascinating. They remind us that Paris belongs to everyone it has touched, and to each in a different way.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In original and previously published essays, 32 diverse writers share both exciting and depressing Paris moments. Diane Johnson, evaluating French stereotypes, was surprised that French hostesses serve store-bought entrees. Jeremy Mercer was taken in by the owner of the famous bookstore Shakespeare & Co., living there rent-free (downstairs œwith the riffraff, and Janine di Giovanni saw French mothers hit their children to enforce good manners. In three of the most substantial essays, Alicia Drake muses on the disconcerting ability of the French to accept human faults as she visits sites from which the Nazis, aided by French police, deported Jews to their deaths; Stacy Schiff finds that picking up the dry cleaning was less of a chore when done on ground Ben Franklin and John Adams trod before her; and Roxane Farmanfarmaian escaped revolutionary Iran for springtime in Paris. Many of the original pieces are wordy, mired in mundaneness, and lacking forceful editing by journalist Rowlands (A Dash of Daring: Carmel Snow and Her Life in Fashion, Arts and Letters), But overall this book should strike a chord in those harboring love/hate relationships with Paris and Parisians. (Feb.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Rowlands compiles into one volume 32 works, about half of which have never been seen before, by different writers who relay their experiences of living in Paris. Although the contributors are as mixed a bag as the City of Light’s 20 arrondissements, they report universal similarities: In Paris, the customer is, if ever, only rarely “right.” The city’s taunting, melancholy beauty is unsurpassed. And any moment passed in the Luxembourg Gardens can be considered time well spent. Rowlands does a seamless job of presenting a city as seen by so many eyes (those of David Sedaris, Stacey Schiff, and Zoé Valdés, to name a few) that readers who’ve visited will recognize their own memories, and those who haven’t will glean a globally in-depth portrait. (The piece by a Parisian single-mom, blogging about her homelessness, is particularly poignant.) Judith Thurman perhaps sums up the whole endeavor best when she writes that “one of the greatest charms of having lived in Paris is the Proustian glamour of being able to claim that one did so.” --Annie Bostrom

Product Details

  • File Size: 597 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; Original edition (February 8, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #245,673 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
83 of 83 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars At last... March 10, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Having spent a year living in Paris with two school-aged children, I am glad to finally read a book about the city that does not simply sing its praises. The premise, in the form of many essays, is that for good, bad, or in-between, Paris affected the lives of the writers permanently. The essays are refreshing, honest, and, for the most part, well-written. We have been back for 7 months now, and people still greet me with "How wonderful it was for you to get to live in Paris for a year" or "I am so jealous" etc. This usually comes from people who have spent a week or three in the city, or lived there when younger without children. After feeling alone with my very mixed feelings for all of this time, I finally have some "friends". Friends who know what it is really like for ex-pats, and can articulate the contrast between the perception of Paris strangers often have, and the reality. Like anywhere else, Paris, especially for foreigners with children, is a mixed bag. This book, through its diverse accounts of that city and its people brings that point home. Black, white, and shades of gray. A little magic at times, a lot of obstacles at others. As a whole, "Paris was Ours" brings together the many different experiences of people in a city that is often romanticized. The essays are funny, sad, informative, and for me, a little bit redemptive. I recommend it highly.
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Reality Check on a Romantic Icon June 7, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
To many Americans, Paris is gloss. Television series - Sex in the CIty, Gossip Girl and even the sturdy medical drama ER - use it as an exotic backdrop. Woody Allen's new "Midnight in Paris" conjures up the bohemian fantasy that Paris still represents, although more avant garde types are now inclined to view Prague (ironically, the actual, original Bohemia) as closer to the spirit of Paris in the 1920's and 1950's. But Carrie Bradshaw, Blair Waldorf and Woody Allen's stock characters are brief visitors who parachute in and just as abruptly leave. In "Paris Was Ours," editor Penelope Rowlands collects 32 writers who are determined to live in Paris among Parisians, rather than skim the surface as privileged tourists or circulate in tight hermetic expatriate communities as Hemingway and Fitzgerald did.

Beyond artistic inspiration, in the twentieth century Paris represented personal freedom (and an insanely favorable exchange rate) for the "Lost Generation" of the 1920's who were stultified by Prohibition, and relief from racial discrimination for African-American artists ( James Baldwin, Nina Simone) in the 1950s and 60s. It is not clear what drives Americans to want to experience Paris today, and "Paris Was Ours" does not shed much light on that issue. In that regard, the most disappointing chapter comes from one of the more famous contributors, David Sedaris, whose scant essay is predictably humorous (and scatalogical) but could have been written anywhere. Instead, some of the more compelling chapters are those written by non-Americans. To Roxane Farmanfarmaian, Paris offers political freedom and escape from the revolutionary Iran of the late 1970s.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Delightful and multifaceted April 16, 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
So often these books about Paris are superficial and uncritical, but Rowland's book delves beneath the surface to portray a living city not always (or perhaps, rarely) welcoming of the outsider, but nonetheless endlessly fascinating to foreigners. I just returned from Paris two weeks ago, and this book makes me want to hail a cab to the airport and return "tout de suite."
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Real Paris for Us June 12, 2011
Having visited Paris and falling in love with it like everybody else, I always wondered what it would really be like to live and work there. These writers give us a clear headed, un-gift wrapped, street level view of the City, but all done with an underlying affection for all its facets. The way the essays are arranged is similar to a play, with an ending that leaves you happy and sad at the same time. Although I wanted to read the whole book very quickly I spaced out the essays so I could savor Paris bit by bit. Between my reading I had this wonderful feeling of actually having just been there. It worked for me, maybe it will for you!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Having lived in Paris for about 30 years, this book is a source of amusement, wry recollection, and unexpected points of view.
These people have done some of the same things I have, lots of things I haven't and all write about it very well.
None of it reads like fiction, all of it is fun to read.

Those who know Paris will like the book, those who don't will want to join the first group.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Devoured this lovely and trenchant book... June 29, 2011
As the veteran of a 2-year stint in Paris, I savored each and every one of the essays in PARIS WAS OURS. Paris was mine, once, and this slim volume brought it all back, the good and the not-so-good.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Prose July 30, 2011
For me what separates this book from other collections on Paris -- or any other great city -- is the excellent quality of the writing. Rowlands puts together a real treasure chest of voices, talents, and varying points of view in these pages. I love Paris like everybody else. And I learned a great deal about the city from this collection. But I'd be happy to read prose this good if the authors were describing life in Des Moines.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read for People Who Love Paris
For someone who lived in Paris for 5 years, I must say I love this book. Very well-written.
Published 6 days ago by Nancy B.
4.0 out of 5 stars Impressions/memories of Paris by highly capable writers and editor
Excellent collection of fine writing, sensitively chosen.
Published 3 months ago by Wanda H. Giles
3.0 out of 5 stars Some stories were excellent and others not as strong
This compilation of stories about France in general and Paris in particular was hit and miss. Some stories were excellent and others not as strong. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Ted Jovanis
5.0 out of 5 stars It's a wonderful read, rich in details of the city as ...
It's a wonderful read, rich in details of the city as experienced through the years by so many interesting eyes
Published 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Travel vicariously!
Never having been to Paris, but having read about this city in books many times, I was further inspired to read this book because perspective from so many different writers gives a... Read more
Published 4 months ago by atmj
5.0 out of 5 stars Thirty-two ways to love Paris
Wonderful essays by people who love Paris as I do. If I were going there again, i would read this book just before leaving and maybe take it along.
Published 5 months ago by Biondina
5.0 out of 5 stars The Impossible Dream?
Purchased from
This most entertaining book was a compilation of 32 contributing essays by people who manged the impossible dream of living in Paris. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Charles E. Jones
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
Lost my interest... For non French speakers some stories were a little hard to follow
Published 5 months ago by Stephanie Burke
5.0 out of 5 stars In preparation for my own journey to Paris...
Wonderful impressions of Paris written by folks who spent a good deal of time in Paris. Will be traveling to Paris soon so I wanted to read this book recommended by a sales lady... Read more
Published 7 months ago by EV
4.0 out of 5 stars Paris Was Ours.
There were some very delightful essays about Paris in this collection. If you love Paris, there's something for everyone in this book.
Published 8 months ago by K. Spangler
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More About the Author

Penelope Rowlands is a journalist and the author of "A Dash Of Daring," a critically acclaimed biography of Carmel Snow, the brilliant Irish-American editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar (from 1934-1958).

Rowlands has also edited two well-received anthologies, "The Beatles Are Here!" and "Paris Was Ours" -- in each case also contributing both the introduction and an essay of her own. She is the author of three books on design, including monographs on Jean Prouvé and Eileen Gray.

Her latest project, a biographical work about the later years of Aaron Burr, the controversial Founding Father, will be published in 2015.


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