Friday, January 21, 2011

Review: Paris Was Ours edited by Penelope Rowlands

Paris has long exerted a hold on the American imagination. It is the glamorous and enticing and haughty. It draws people, ex-pats and students and others, as practically no other city does. Many of our very best writers throughout the last century spent time in the city of light, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wharton, Stein, Miller, and many more. And their Parisian experience molded them and molded their writing.

In the collection of 32 essays, both previously published and original works, Rowlands has collected the Paris experiences of a new generation of writers who have lived in this most intriguing of cities. Their experiences are not all of a kind but their varied writings serve to create a rounded portrait of the multi-faceted city and its inhabitants. Tackling subjects as different as fashion, food, and their famed intolerance of the etranger (among other topics), all of the writers in this collection share their Parisian experience in ways such that anyone who has him or herself visited Paris will recognize truths and swim in their own memories, good and bad, of the fabled city.

As is generally the case, certain of the essays are more poignant or better written or simply more enticing to individual readers but overall, the collection is quite strong. It is diverse enough to cover many aspects of life in the city but also specific enough to draw a detailed view of the different arrondissements and the various people who inhabit them. It was fascinating to hop from essay to essay, dipping into life as a writer researching a book, as an African-American student frustrated by the fact of her Americanness defining her, as a homeless mother speaking of the cost to live in Paris and the need for a solution, as a witness to French parenting, and so on. Because of the nature of the book and the length of most of the essays, this was the perfect choice to read intermitently, in the car, at kid events, and the like. It was a small bit of escape in an otherwise mundane task.

Thanks to the lovely folks at Algonquin for sending me a copy to review.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a good read. I've only been to Paris briefly (weekend break) but it was lovely. I hope to go again one day and really see all of the sights.


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