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Paris Was the Place Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 6, 2013
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Willow Pears—an American poetry professor living in 1980s Paris to be near her brother, Luke—immerses herself in the vibrancy of the city and the tragedy of an international group of young women incarcerated at an immigration holding center. Recruited to help the detainees prepare for their asylum hearings, Willow forms a dangerously close friendship with Gita, who faces deportation to India and a return to the men who raped her. Macon Ventri is Gita’s appointed lawyer, and he sweetens Willow’s interest in Gita’s case with some welcome romantic interest of his own. As Macon and Gita try to navigate the legal labyrinth, Willow and Luke confront France’s health-care system when Luke is diagnosed with AIDS. Eventually, Gita’s desperate bid for freedom will involve Willow in a scandal that promises to shutter the immigration center and shatter her affair with Macon. Deftly exploring the complexities of friendship, family, and commitment, Conley adroitly demonstrates her infectious passion for Paris through an extensive and intimate portrait of the inner workings of the city concealed behind its seductive facade. --Carol Haggas
“A satisfying cassoulet of questions about home, comfort and love, served with a fresh perspective on a dazzling city.” —Elisabeth Egan, People
“Conley writes beautifully, compellingly [and] with a directness and clarity that is moving without being maudlin. . . . [She] also evokes a vivid sense of Paris. . . Captivating descriptions highlight the hallmarks and quirks of the various arrondissements and neighborhoods with a ‘you are here’ immediacy.” —Karen Campbell, The Boston Globe
“The author of the acclaimed memoir The Foremost Good Fortune has written an exquisite debut novel. American Willow Pears lives and teaches in Paris at a center for immigrant girls who have requested asylum in France. The culture, flavor, keen detail, and literature of Paris, India, and the US are lyrically interwoven in a story about hope, love, family, forgiveness, expectation, risk, loss, and letting go.” —Susan K. McCann (Essex Books), The Boston Globe, "Pick of the Week."
“Susan Conley's Paris Was the Place has the kind of emotional weight you hope for in a novel. Its world, by turns achingly beautiful and brutally unjust, is as vividly rendered as its characters, whose joys and struggles we embrace as our own.” —Richard Russo
“Susan Conley's deft, moving novel is a beautiful love song, as much to Paris as to that tipping point in life when love and loss combine and perhaps, for the first time, both heartbroken and thrilled, you feel acutely what it means to be fully human and alive.” —Sarah Blake, author of The Postmistress
“Paris Was the Place is a gorgeous love story and a wise, intimate journal of dislocation that examines how far we'll go for the people we love most. I couldn't put it down.” —Ayelet Waldman, author of Red Hook Road
“Paris Was the Place, with its portrait of Paris in the 80’s and a narrator whose beloved brother is undone by AIDS, renders viscerally just how the personal becomes the political, and vice-versa: it’s beautifully eloquent on the shortfall we so keenly feel between the comfort and support we can offer loved ones and the comprehensive safety we wish we could provide. It reminds us through the openheartedness of its compassion of the infinity of ways in which doing what we can for others might represent the best we can do in terms of saving ourselves.” —Jim Shepard, author of You Think That’s Bad
“In Paris Was the Place Susan Conley has created a vivid portrait of a place and a person. As Willow falls in love, first with the girls she teaches at a detention centre and then with the immigration lawyer charged with helping them, her life becomes increasingly complicated. The result is a suspenseful story, full of moral choices and deep feeling. Willow is an irresistible heroine.” —Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy
“Sensual and seductive, Paris Was the Place pulls you in and doesn't let you go. Find your nearest chair and start reading. With her poet's eye, Conley has woven a vivid, masterful tale of love and its costs.” —Lily King, author of Father of the Rain
“Conley’s first novel allows her to expand her reach with a complex story about a young American woman teaching poetry in Paris in 1989, facing heart-breaking personal challenges that will test her courage and love, as well as a moral and legal dilemma that may prove costly in many ways.” —Bill Bushnell, The Morning Sentinel
“Conley's debut novel zips its readers to the Paris of the 1980s, with a plot centering around a young American woman teaching at a center for immigrant girls. At its heart the story explores the ties between family and friends, but Paris Was the Place also delights around the edges with descriptions of a sky ‘flanged lilac,’ dove gray apartments buildings, cafes with awnings, and crepes with lemon and butter and sugar.” —Reader's Digest: Eight Irresistible Books We're Reading Right Now
“Love of many different kinds powers Susan Conley's first novel, Paris Was the Place. The novel is much more than a love story however. The brief flashbacks are so vivid you would swear the author went through that primal experience.” —Joe Myers, The Stamford Advocate
"Once it took hold of me, it didn’t let go. I loved all the characters that I met along the way. It will be hard to stop reading this book once you start going. A great first novel for Ms. Conley." —Annie Hicks, The Portland Book Review
"The characters in this tale of collegiate expat living [have] deeply felt interactions." —Elle
“Smart and compulsively readable, Paris Was the Place is a bittersweet meditation on responsibility and family, and on the power of words to save us.” —Maryanne O’Hara, author of Cascade
“Susan Conley has written a heartrending and deeply hopeful novel. Its power grows and grows. In patient, gentle prose the book explores global and psychological displacement. Conley does not spare her characters grief or pain—but she gives them the gift of hope, too. Her immigrant girls are tenderly drawn, full of pathos. One feels a need get to close to them, to provide some comfort, to find some way to fix this broken system and this brutal world. Thankfully, Willie Pears—Conley’s big-hearted, clear-eyed narrator—is there.” —Sarah Braunstein, author of The Sweet Relief of Missing Children
“Conley peppers her writing with sensual details—taste, smell, touch—that give the prose a certain meatiness. She gives her reader something to bite into and hold onto. Something to feel. . . . When the sad parts come, they are so interwoven with moments of beauty that the sadness itself seems exquisite. Paris Was the Place reminds us that it is impossible to separate what is hideous from what is lovely in our everyday lives.” —Deirdre Fulton, The Portland Phoenix
“Tenderhearted, earnest, and sincere.” —Publishers Weekly
“Deftly exploring the complexities of friendship, family, and commitment, Conley adroitly demonstrates her infectious passion for Paris through an extensive and intimate portrait of the inner workings concealed behind its seductive façade.” —Booklist
“An affecting debut… The sympathetic storytelling and limpid first-person narration succeed in casting a spell.” —Kirkus
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At the beginning, I was sucked into the section about the main character's work with the immigrants at the detention centre. It was so promising!! I expected so much more with regards to the girls seeking asylum in France and the main character's relationship with these girls. That’s what I was really looking forward to.
Then the story line about the main character's brother takes over.
You get the impression that this is a case of two short stories that have been linked and that the author intended the immigrant story to be the main one but maybe changed her mind along the way, so that the story about her brother takes precedence. I was disappointed.
But it's not a bad story.
3.5 stars for this one.
It felt like a young adult book to me. I can't believe I'm saying this, but all of it was tedious to me.
I work with young, disadvantaged teenage girls so I was very sympathetic to the stories of the young women in the book - the abuse, the fear, the helplessness of being the victim of a system.
HIV and AIDS have played a major role in my life for the past thirty years, and even that felt hollow to me.
And Paris - well, I can't get enough of it. But I did. I didn't finish the book.
Actually, probably great for a younger audience. I would recommend it to my 18 year-old granddaughter.
The characters are well developed and we are drawn into their circle throughout the journey of reading this fine novel.
This is my best attempt at a rave review. Whats next Susan?. I can't wait. Anne