With her new novel, Paris Was the Place (Knopf, 2013), Susan Conley offers a beautiful meditation on how much it matters to belong: to a family, to a country, to any one place, and how this belonging can mean the difference in our survival. Novelist Richard Russo calls Paris Was the Place, “by turns achingly beautiful and brutally unjust, as vividly rendered as its characters, whose joys and struggles we embrace as our own.”
When Willie Pears begins teaching at a center for immigrant girls in Paris all hoping for French asylum, the lines between teaching and mothering quickly begin to blur. Willie has fled to Paris to create a new family, and she soon falls for Macon, a passionate French lawyer. Gita, a young girl at the detention center, becomes determined to escape her circumstances, no matter the cost. And just as Willie is faced with a decision that could have dire consequences for Macon and the future of the center, her brother is taken with a serious, as-yet-unnamed illness. The writer Ayelet Waldman calls Paris Was the Place “a gorgeous love story and a wise, intimate journal of dislocation that examines how far we’ll go for the people we love most.” Named on the Indie Next List for August 2013 and on the Slate Summer Reading List, this is a story that reaffirms the ties that bind us to one another.
Release date: August 7, 2013.
Publisher link: Random House
Today I am kicking off the France Book Tours for Paris was the Place by Author Susan Conley.
Author Susan Conley has come up with a wonderful and quite different book that is set in Paris but could really be set anywhere in Europe or North America, where there is a large migrant population. For me, I loved that it was set in Paris, as I enjoyed envisioning the metro stops or roads that Willie, the main character would traverse. Paris is the Place shows up a different side of Paris that no-one really pays attention to.
Willie, a poetry teacher, is recruited to teach in a school for girls awaiting their asylum hearings. The girls come from a variety of different backgrounds and experiences. The common thread is that they do not want to return to their homes and they must wait and see if France will let them say. Willie, is responsible for teaching the girls English so that they may participate in their hearings and make a compelling argument for remaining in Paris,
Having just lost her mother, Willie takes on a motherly role as she mentors the girls. The girls also teach Willie. She realizes the impact of her mother's death on her own personal life. She wants to protect the girls from their past and give them a better future. Conley explores the world of being a refugee in a foreign country, the feeling of hopelessness and uncertainty as one's fate is left in the hands of another.
Willie' life is further complicated when her brother suddenly takes ill and his health declines. Through this story line, Conley explores the bonds of family and the lengths one goes to to keep the bond alive. Paris was the Place was not at all what I expected. Usually books set in Paris focus on love and food. While Willie's love is for her students and her brother the passion was just as deep as if it had been for a lover. Conley has written a great book with a wonderful, strong interesting main character in Willie.
Susan Conley is a writer and teacher. Her memoir, The Foremost Good Fortune (Knopf 2011), chronicles her family’s experiences in modern China as well as her journey through breast cancer. The Oprah Magazine listed it as a Top Ten Pick, Slate Magazine chose it as "Book of the Week," and The Washington Post called it "a beautiful book about China and cancer and how to be an authentic, courageous human being." Excerpts from the memoir have been published in The New York Times Magazine and The Daily Beast.
Susan’s writing has also appeared in The Paris Review, The Harvard Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Gettysburg Review, The North American Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. A native of Maine, she earned her B.A. from Middlebury College and her M.F.A. in creative writing from San Diego State University. After teaching poetry and literature at Emerson College in Boston, Susan returned to Portland, where she cofounded and served as executive director of The Telling Room, a nonprofit creative writing center. She currently teaches at The Telling Room and at the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA Program.