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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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Jacqueline in Paris


Afterward I said I would rather not go back for a while. I had lived in Paris for a year and become so enchanted by its pleasures and so despondent when I returned that I felt it would have been better not to go in the first place. I said it partly to appease Mummy, but I meant it too, for when I allowed myself to think of the city—its seasons and moods, the curved shadows cast by wrought-iron grillwork upon limestone walls, the reek of stale cigarettes in the métro, the drizzly rain that softened colors and angles into a Caillebotte painting—I desired it so intensely I felt sick at the thought of losing it again.

It is so different, the feeling you have for a place when you’re living there. My first visit to Paris, on the trip with Bow and the other girls from school, I thought the city was all glamour and glitter and rush. Yusha took us to a nightclub on the Champs-Élysées where we stared goggle-eyed at the revue with its full orchestra and satin-voiced siren belting torch songs, the gymnasts and puppeteers and flock of cabaret girls wearing rhinestones, ostrich feathers, and very little else. Miss Shearman, conscious of her duties as our chaperone, feigned shock at the latter, but my darling stepbrother gave her one of his gentle smiles and asked her to dance, leaving us girls to be dazzled in peace. I was eighteen years old and on my first trip to Europe, and I thought everything was marvelous.

When I went to the nightclub again, about a year later, to my surprise it seemed so garish. The orchestra sounded leaden, the torch songs overwrought, the cabaret girls’ smiles stretched to a snap, their flimsy costumes glittering like tinsel. By this time I had been studying in Paris for a few months, flying between the Comtesse’s apartment and my classes at the Sorbonne and Reid Hall in a lovely, tranquil, misty world. I really liked that quiet, contemplative side of Paris the best.

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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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Member ratings (7,109)

  • Windsor W.

    Milwaukee, WI

    For someone who loves thrillers, this was a slow read… but enjoyable! Every time I picked up this book, I was transported to a charming and enchanting 1950’s Paris. Great if you like period pieces. ❤️

  • Marcia E.

    Glen Burnie , MD

    This book brought to light one aspect of Jaqueline’s life I never expected to see. It also gave great insight on what meant to grew up with a “good upbringing” back then. Interesting family dynamics.

  • Nicole B.

    Los Lunas, NM

    This is a bittersweet coming-of-age fictional story of one of America’s most recognized historical figures. Although it is fiction, it is well researched and I’d like to think it’s close to reality.

  • Alicia P.

    Sturgeon Bay, WI

    Hist. Fiction can be a hit or miss for me but I absolutely loved this book. I’ve always found Jackie’s life to be facinating. Perfect mix of fiction w/ true facts and history…wanted to read more!

  • Marianne A.

    Chesterfield , MO

    PARIS WITH JACQUELINE in it makes a better title for this beautifully, but densely, written historical fiction book. It’s informative about communism, the death camps, French Society, & Jackie’s life.

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