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Paris Was the Place Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 6, 2013

4.1 out of 5 stars 100 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

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

Review

“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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (August 6, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307594076
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307594075
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,120,995 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By PT Cruiser TOP 50 REVIEWER on August 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This engrossing novel by Susan Conley takes place in 1989 and tells the story of Willie Pears, an ex-pat who has moved to Paris, and has just taken a job at an institution for young women seeking asylum in France. The young women to whom she is teaching poetry are mainly from India and Africa and most came from desparate political and social situations and backgrounds. As the story unfolds we learn that Willie followed her brother Luke, who she's very close to, especially since the death of their mother, to Paris. We learn about him and about her friends Sara and her husband, Rajiv, as well as some of her students and the lawyer for one of the students with whom she becomes close.

It was easy to become involved in the lives of Conley's characters and to feel the complex emotions she describes in their entertwining stories. I felt like I knew them all. If you've ever traveled to Paris and had the time to wander around this beautiful and historic city, you'll enjoy Conley's descriptions of Willie's routes taken taken in her daily trips around the city and the surroundings. If you were around in 1989 you'll also appreciate some of the nostalgia for that time period.

This was an easy novel to get into, right from the first pages, and it kept me involved until the last.
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I devoured this book in two days, reading on my lunch breaks and in line at the grocery store despite an initial plan to save the book for a long weekend. Within the first ten pages, I was engaged with the characters and wishing for their happiness. Conley's specific descriptions of everything from dinnerware at an Indian restaurant to the layout of her brother's apartment, to the streets of Paris, made the story engrossing and a living narrative of sorts. Sometimes the description halted the flow of the narrative, but I prefer to read novels that focus on these details of everyday life. I had recently returned from a family trip to India and visited some of the cities described in the novel, and so reading Conley's words allowed me to reconnect with my own experience. Conley's story of good intentions, living your beliefs and embodying courage allowed me to imagine the City of Light in new ways, beyond the touristic images. I have also read Conley's memoir and recommend it highly. She is a gifted writer.
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Format: Hardcover
Amazing prose from this poet-turned-novelist. One could read it for the depth of knowledge of the Paris metro and street patterns alone; or simply for a new appreciation for the chilling reality of child immigrants. I read it for the reminder of how place and family relationships create the foundation of life. The 70s and 80s song references are icing on the cake! High marks and highly recommend!
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Willie Pears, an expat living in Paris is a teacher of poetry and the author of a book about a French poet named Anne-Marie Albiach.

Willie is involved in the lives of the people she cares deeply about in Paris in 1989: her brother Luke (whom she adores) and Luke's significant other, the Norwegian Gaird; her best friend from college Sara, a doctor, and her husband Rajiv; Gita, a 15-year-old facing deportation back to India -- Willie mentors her, hoping to help her gain asylum in France; Macon, who Willie falls in love with -- Macon is the lawyer for Gita and other young refugees hoping for asylum; and her Father who comes to Paris near the end of the story.

Told in the first person by Willie, we come to know her intimately through her emotions -- love and fear -- as she navigates some complex and painful events. But there is also a high point when she travels to India with Macon and is able to meet with Padmaja, the daughter of the poet Sarojini Naidu, as Willie prepares to write a biography on Naidu, "The Nightingale of India."

I loved the way Conley referenced many poets throughout this story. She mentions Naipaul's, "A Bend in the River," whose main character is "an outsider," (as is Willie) firming up my suspicion (in addition to Willie's thoughts and actions which are explicitly revealed) that Willie feels like a stranger in a strange land. Unlike Naipaul's protagonist, Salim ("...men who are nothing, who allow themselves to be nothing, have no place in it") Willie Pears is someone who has a solid place in the world because she readily extends herself (sometimes precariously) for those in peril.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I had a bit of an up and down reaction to this book. Told in the first person, this perhaps was my largest difficulty. I will admit to being harsh about first person narrative, there is a fine line between moving a story forward with a character's voice and bringing the forward motion to a complete halt with inclusions of all the ephemera that we normally wouldn't share with our friends during the day. Here often was a problem as descriptions of numerous Metro journeys, that weren't used to explain much more than the Parisian underground. Unfortunately, Paris didn't come alive as I would have expected, in fact place descriptions were far better in a sub-plot of Willie's travels in India.

Then we have three story lines, with none truly taking precedence or becoming the major focus of the story: whether this was an attempt to use a metaphorical device comparing the rootlessness that Willie finds at her core, the women in the Asylum center and her brother's remove from the family, I am not certain, but it could be one explanation for the unrelated and unconnected stories that Willie tells that never seem to find common threads.

What emerges is three distinct phases in this book: the asylum seekers who all have stories that could have comprised a book in themselves, their experiences, their lives left behind and the difficulties they are encountering in changing their lives. This is intermingled with the immigrant communities and the struggle that Paris, and the government are facing to integrate them into society in a meaningful way, yet neither presents a conclusion or a complete development.
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