Book Reviews

We’ll Always Have Paris

“We’ll always have Paris. We didn’t have it. We lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.”

Humphrey Bogart (as Rick) utters these memorable words to Ingrid Berman (as Ilsa) in the final scene of the classic film Casablanca. They were on my mind last week as terrorists hit the French capital city.

Even if you have never had the opportunity to visit The City of Light, you probably have a strong impression of Paris. The Seine, Notre Dame, sidewalk cafes and museums of the city have found their way into our hearts and minds through the images portrayed in many films and books.

List of favorite books that are set in Paris

If you, like me, are feeling as if it is a good time to visit the beautiful city through the pages of a book, here is our list of favorite books – some old and some new – that are set in Paris.

Books set in Paris – The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo (1831)

Love, betrayal, loss and redemption — as well as several unforgettable characters — are part of this sweeping novel set in Paris in the late 15th century. The Cathedral of Notre Dame, one of the best-known and most visited churches in the world, stands looming over the action of the novel, which centers on a Beauty and the Beast-like tale involving a hunchback named Quasimodo and a beautiful gypsy named Esmerelda.

Favorite quote about Paris: “Great edifices, like great mountains, are the work of the ages.”

Books set in Paris – The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926)

This Hemingway classic gives us an unsettling, yet realistic view of the Lost Generation, those young adults who survived the horrors of World War I but were irrevocably changed by them. We follow our two protagonists, Jake Barnes and Brett Ashley, through the wild nightlife of Paris in the mid-1920s to the brutal running of the bulls in Spain.

Favorite quote about Paris: “It was a fine morning. The horse-chestnut trees in the Luxembourg gardens were in bloom. There was the pleasant early-morning feeling of a hot day… The flower-women were coming up from the market and arranging their daily stock. Students went by going up to the law school, or down to the Sorbonne. The Boulevard was busy with trams and people going to work.”

Books set in Paris – The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoir (1954)

Moving forward in history, this novel examines Paris society in the post-World War II years. The author was part of a group of thinkers and writers, including Albert Camus, Arthur Koestler, Nelson Algren and Jean-Paul Sartre. It is a fascinating look at how intellectuals go about the task of rebuilding society – and indeed themselves – after the tumult and losses of war.

Favorite quote about Paris: “So many things had happened in the last five years – to the world, to France, to Paris, to others. But not to me. Would nothing ever happen to me again?”

Books set in Paris – My Life in France by Julia Child (2006)

This autobiographical work by the author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published posthumously in 2006, largely due to the efforts of her husband’s grandnephew, Alex Prud’homme. Child, an American who moved to France in 1948, was determined to learn French cooking, despite the fact she couldn’t speak a word of French and was starting from square one. The journey she takes us on is a delightful and inspiring one.

Favorite quote about Paris: “The sweetness and generosity and politeness and gentleness and humanity of the French had shown me how lovely life can be if one takes time to be friendly.”

Books set in Paris – The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (2006)

This novel gives you a gratifying sneak peek into what life – or at least one specific snapshot of it – is like in the center of modern Paris. We spend time with two unlikely friends — Renée, a concierge in an elegant apartment building, and Paloma, a charming pre-teen genius who lives in the same building with her parents and older sister. Along the way, we learn about the secrets they both hold and a good deal about the effect wrong impressions can have on us and our growth as individuals. This amazing book will leave you contemplating your life in a new way, and its surprising ending will leave you both saddened and gladdened in the process.

Favorite quote about Paris: “…that is precisely what is so good about the moment devoted to pastries; they can only be appreciated to the full extent of their subtlety when they are not eaten to assuage our hunger, when the orgy of their sugary sweetness is not destined to fill some primary need but to coat our palate with all the benevolence of the world.”

Paris has inspired artists, poets and writers of all nationalities for centuries because of its architecture, its culture and its indefinable air of romance. As Victor Hugo put it, “He who contemplates the depths of Paris is seized with vertigo. Nothing is more fantastic. Nothing is more tragic. Nothing is more sublime.”

We'll Always Have Paris