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Paris Was Ours Paperback – Deckle Edge, February 8, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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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.)
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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
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; Original edition (February 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565129539
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565129535
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,143 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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This most entertaining book was a compilation of 32 contributing essays by people who manged the impossible dream of living in Paris. I enjoyed all but one of the first hand experiences of grappling the culture shock that confronts expats trying to become a citizen of Paris. The only essay that was like reading a foreign language was written in half English and half French. When I finished reading it I had no idea of what I had just skimmed through.
If becoming a Parisiene is this difficult I am surprised that anyone who was not born in France actually survived the many differences and hardships that one encounters in Paris (labor strikes, short and sporadic hours of operation for cafes, markets,etc.) and trying to deal with various shop owners who, until you get on their good side, can be very nasty and rude.
Penelope Rowlands lived in Paris as a single mother with a 10 year old child who was constantly being yelled at (and worse)
for unknowingly committing no-nos which are not tolerated by the French.
Why do some endure all of these imposed barriers while others throw up their hands and exclaim Assez!
This collection of essays was entertaining and explains the many nuances associated with living as an expat in the City of Light.
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