Here in Paris, we're celebrating French independence today with parades along the Champs Élysées, air shows over the Tuileries Garden, free entry to the Louvre (surely the French stand alone in making their most famous museum not only open but free on their independence holiday), and fireworks at the Eiffel Tower. For those not lucky enough to be here to participate, three new books offer delicious tastes of Paris in the last century:
When Paris Sizzled: The 1920s Paris of Hemingway, Chanel, Cocteau, Cole Porter, Josephine Baker, and Their Friends by Mary McAuliffe (Rowman & Littlefield, September 15). McAuliffe, whose previous books have explored the Belle Époque Paris of Monet, Eiffel, Debussy, Picasso, Proust, and Curie, brings her historical eye to Paris in the 1920s. As the city emerges from the Great War, it turns back to fashion, jazz, literature, and art, with Montparnasse at the creative epicenter. McAuliffe delivers in beguiling detail bicycle races around dining room tables and rides in full wedding dress that lead to unexpected grooms, Coco Chanel decorations for a party to which she was not invited, Fitzgerald's tutoring of Hemingway, and Sylvia Beach's celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of Proust and his common law wife with Irish Whiskey and champagne. Through these intimate moments, When Paris Sizzled delivers an expansive and wonderfully engaging account of the spirited characters who made the Left Bank of Paris the center of the creative world.
The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown (Putnam, July 12). Brown's charming follow-up to her bestselling The Weird Sisters explores 1920s Paris in fiction. Unhappily-married Madeleine finds an old box of journals detailing her grandmother's great adventure in 1920s Paris--a trip that begins with Margie's defiant refusal to marry and a role as chaperone for a young cousin's travels in Europe. When the wily cousin absconds with all the money, Margie is left to fend for herself, and to find a place in the City of Light. The intertwined stories of convention-defying Margie and her granddaughter each coming into their own takes us back to the café life and the art, literature, and music of Jazz Age Paris.
Every Frenchman has One by Olivia de Havilland (Crown, June 28) is a reissue of the actress's memoir of her move to Paris in 1953, settling first on the Left Bank and later moving to the Right. With disarmingly self-deprecating humor, she tells of being "a three-quarter divorcée" when she meets the Frenchman who would become her husband--the first Frenchman she met on French soil. She tangles with French laws, "the French liver," the traffic, the language, the fashion and more in her evolution into a Frenchwoman. Her "little white house which is as tall and narrow as a chimney" becomes a place in which the reader, too, feels at home in this amusing outsider look at Paris--where the Tokyo-born British-American film star celebrated her 100th birthday on July 1.
Meg Waite Clayton is the author of five novels, most recently the national bestselling The Race for Paris, which is the recipient of the 2016 Langum Prize honorable mention.