“The Paris Wife,” my newest love
I’ve fallen in love again. This time with Paris. Again. After spending the last nearly two years alternately fighting the city and what it doesn’t offer (sufficient air conditioning, salads without cream dressing, good customer service, reasonable prices on anything…) and drinking up the extraordinary sights – the grands boulevards, the Haussmannian architecture, the art… – I’ve been drawn back into the fold.
I recently joined a book club here, and for my first meeting we read The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain. The work is historical fiction about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley (Richardson) Hemingway, told from Hadley’s point of view. I’ve never read much Hemingway, and never been particularly interested in his life, but this book really struck a chord with me. Mostly because it takes place largely in Paris, where the couple lived for the five years they were married.
Through Hadley’s vivid descriptions of city life – the drinks and conversations they enjoyed in cafés and bistros that I’ve walked past many times without thinking twice about – I was reminded why I’ve sometimes struggled here in Paris. Even with very modest means, Hadley takes in all the city has to give, and offers few complaints (other than two mentions of the lack of a toilet in their apartment). I, on the other hand, am wont to compare everything. I guess that’s the editor in me, always searching for what’s “better”, the “best” thing or place or whatever. The problem with this is that it’s bound to drive you crazy, and takes away from all of the reasons that you are here, and all that it offers beyond any experience you might have in your home country. I realized that I have to once again accept Paris on its own terms, and fall into step (slower, daintier) with everyone around me. Every city has its own vibe, and I have to let myself be carried away by Paris.
Whether you live in Paris or not, or care for Hemingway or not, I highly recommend The Paris Wife. It’s diligently researched and beautifully written. It covers much more than simply living in Paris; it explores the heart of a rather meek Midwestern woman who marries a man of extraordinary talent (before he was “discovered”), who moves across the world from her home, and learns to hold her own in the wilds of 1920s literary Paris.
Note: I realize that this book was released more than a year ago in the U.S., and you may have read it some time ago. If so, great! I thought I’d offer my two cents on it, too! And the Random House website created for the book is a great resource, complete with book club discussion questions. Find it here.
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