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Jacqueline in Paris by Ann Mah
Historical fiction

Jacqueline in Paris

by Ann Mah

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Quick take

Before she was First Lady or a fashion icon, Jackie O was just a girl on an idyllic study abroad in the City of Lights.

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In August 1949 Jacqueline Bouvier arrives in postwar Paris to begin her junior year abroad. She’s twenty years old, socially poised but financially precarious, and all too aware of her mother’s expectations that she make a brilliant match. Before relenting to family pressure, she has one year to herself far away from sleepy Vassar College and the rigid social circles of New York, a year to explore and absorb the luminous beauty of the City of Light. Jacqueline is immediately catapulted into an intoxicating new world of champagne and châteaux, art and avant-garde theater, cafés and jazz clubs. She strikes up a romance with a talented young writer who shares her love of literature and passion for culture—even though her mother would think him most unsuitable.

But beneath the glitter and rush, France is a fragile place still haunted by the Occupation. Jacqueline lives in a rambling apartment with a widowed countess and her daughters, all of whom suffered as part of the French Resistance just a few years before. In the aftermath of World War II, Paris has become a nest of spies, and suspicion, deception, and betrayal lurk around every corner. Jacqueline is stunned to watch the rise of communism—anathema in America, but an active movement in France—never guessing she is witnessing the beginning of the political environment that will shape the rest of her life—and that of her future husband.

Evocative, sensitive, and rich in historic detail, Jacqueline in Paris portrays the origin story of an American icon. Ann Mah brilliantly imagines the intellectual and aesthetic awakening of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, and illuminates how France would prove to be her one true love, and one of the greatest influences on her life.

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Why I love it

Ann Mah gives us a lustrous and charming novel in Jacqueline in Paris. Building off research she conducted for a travel essay, she vividly imagines the inner life and coming-of-age adventures of one of America’s most beloved icons and presents her in a new light for readers.

In 1949, four years before her marriage to John F. Kennedy would vault her into the public eye, 20-year-old Jacqueline Bouvier spent a year studying abroad in France. Traveling by ship with a group of Smith College girls, she visits Grenoble before settling in at the Paris home of the Comtesse de Renty and her daughters, a family of women rebuilding their lives in the aftermath of World War II while the growing threat of communism encroaches. Jacqueline, embracing the French pronunciation of her name, takes classes at the Sorbonne, spends weekends riding horses in the countryside, falls into a stirring romance with a young writer, and cultivates friendships that will live in her heart for a lifetime.

I especially loved seeing the seeds of influence that were planted during Jacqueline’s year abroad in France, knowing how they would grow into a deep understanding of the global landscape, her legendary fashion sense, and later her work in publishing.

History buffs, Francophiles, and fans of Jackie Kennedy Onassis will marvel over the intricacy and sensitivity of Ann Mah’s portrayal of real people and places. However, Jacqueline in Paris is also perfect for any reader looking for a richly drawn, heartfelt story about a young woman learning to fall in love with her own mind as she prepares to confront an unknown future.

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