Paris Was Ours: 32 Writers Reflect on the City of Light

by Penelope Rowlands

Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill and now in its SIXTH printing!


Paris Was Ours is a collection of memoirs about the French capital. It answers the question that I, as the book's editor, asked myself when I first dreamed up the idea: Why, of all the places I've lived, did Paris affect me the most? For, although I’ve lived in half a dozen cities, this one left the deepest mark.

My book is about the transformative effect of living in Paris -- “the world capital of memory and desire,” as the writer Marcelle Clements calls it so indelibly in these pages.

In this volume, thirty-two writers parse their Paris moments. Some of the book's contributors are well known -- Joe Queenan, Diane Johnson, Stacy Schiff, Judith Thurman, and Edmund White among them. Others, including a French blogger who doesn’t consider herself to be a writer at all, are not. Yet each has an intriguing story to tell. (I also wrote one of the essays.) About half of these pieces, commissioned specifically for this book, are here published for the first time.

We writers came to Paris from many directions -- North America, the Middle East, other parts of Europe -- and for myriad reasons, from learning French, to attending cooking school, to simply finding work. We were typically young when we did so, typically open, and the experience typically changed our lives.

Some of us write about why we chose to move to the place the writer Francine du Plessix Gray has dubbed "that siren Paris." Others about what they found after they arrived. For some, the French capital could never be home; others found that they could never leave. And, for surprisingly many, this siren continued to sing to us even after we'd moved away.

Taken together, these essays add up to a single, multifaceted portrait -- one that, like a cubist painting, is all the more descriptive for the disparate elements it contains. The result is a rich and complex depiction of an entrancing, at times exasperating, always fascinating place to live.


About the Cover:

Numerous readers have asked about the striking cover image to Paris Was Ours. It was taken by a young and very talented Parisian photographer, Julien Brachhammer, on the Boulevard des Italiens. (The Paris Opéra is on the right; to the left are the Avenue de l'Opéra and the Place Vendôme.)