August 2013 Indie Next List
“Susan Conley, author of the beautiful acclaimed memoir, The Foremost Good Fortune, (2011), brings us her exquisite debut novel, Paris was the Place (Alfred A. Knopf, August 2013). The novel focuses on American Willow Pears, who is living and teaching in Paris at a center for immigrant girls, who have requested asylum in France. The culture, flavor, keen detail and observation, and literature of Paris, India, and the U.S. are lyrically interwoven in a story about hope, love, family, forgiveness, expectation, risk, loss, and letting go. Conley's novel is sprinkled with humor, as well as questions about social justice, relationship, human tragedy, and grace. As Willow's father, a topographer, states in the book,”
— Susan K. McCann, Essex Books, Centerbrook, CT
"Sensual and seductive, "Paris Was the Place" pulls you in and doesn't let you go. Find your nearest chair and start reading. With her poet's eye, Conley has woven a vivid, masterful tale of love and its costs." --Lily King, author of "Father of the Rain"
When Willie Pears begins teaching at a center for immigrant girls who are all hoping for French asylum, she has no idea it will change her life. As she learns their stories, the lines between teaching and mothering quickly begin to blur. Willie has fled to Paris to create a new family for herself by reaching out to her beloved brother, Luke, and her straight-talking friend, Sara. She soon falls for Macon, a charming, passionate French lawyer, and her new family circle seems complete. But Gita, a young girl at the detention center, is determined to escape her circumstances, no matter the cost. And just as Willie is faced with a decision that could have potentially dire consequences for both her relationship with Macon and the future of the center, Luke is taken with a serious, as-yet-unnamed illness, forcing Willie to reconcile with her father and examine the lengths we will go to for the people we care the most about.
In "Paris Was the Place," Conley has given us a beautiful portrait of 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. This is a profoundly moving portrait of some of the most complicated and glorious aspects of the human existence: love and sex and parenthood and the extraordinary bonds of brothers and sisters. It is a story that reaffirms the ties that bind us to one another.
About the Author
Susan Conley is the author of "The Foremost Good Fortune, " a book that won the Maine Literary Award for memoir and was a Goodreads Choice Award finalist. Her writing has appeared in "The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, " and elsewhere. She's been awarded fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and the Massachusetts Arts Council. She teaches at the University of Southern Maine's Stonecoast MFA writing program, and is the cofounder of The Telling Room, a creative-writing lab in Portland, Maine, where she lives with her husband and their two sons.
“A satisfying cassoulet of questions about home, comfort and love, served with a fresh perspective on a dazzling city.” —Elisabeth Egan, People
“Conley writes beautifully, compellingly [and] with a directness and clarity that is moving without being maudlin. . . . [She] also evokes a vivid sense of Paris. . . Captivating descriptions highlight the hallmarks and quirks of the various arrondissements and neighborhoods with a ‘you are here’ immediacy.” —Karen Campbell, The Boston Globe
“The author of the acclaimed memoir The Foremost Good Fortune has written an exquisite debut novel. American Willow Pears lives and teaches in Paris at a center for immigrant girls who have requested asylum in France. The culture, flavor, keen detail, and literature of Paris, India, and the US are lyrically interwoven in a story about hope, love, family, forgiveness, expectation, risk, loss, and letting go.” —Susan K. McCann (Essex Books), The Boston Globe, "Pick of the Week."
“Susan Conley's Paris Was the Place has the kind of emotional weight you hope for in a novel. Its world, by turns achingly beautiful and brutally unjust, is as vividly rendered as its characters, whose joys and struggles we embrace as our own.” —Richard Russo
“Susan Conley's deft, moving novel is a beautiful love song, as much to Paris as to that tipping point in life when love and loss combine and perhaps, for the first time, both heartbroken and thrilled, you feel acutely what it means to be fully human and alive.” —Sarah Blake, author of The Postmistress
“Paris Was the Place is a gorgeous love story and a wise, intimate journal of dislocation that examines how far we'll go for the people we love most. I couldn't put it down.” —Ayelet Waldman, author of Red Hook Road
“Paris Was the Place, with its portrait of Paris in the 80’s and a narrator whose beloved brother is undone by AIDS, renders viscerally just how the personal becomes the political, and vice-versa: it’s beautifully eloquent on the shortfall we so keenly feel between the comfort and support we can offer loved ones and the comprehensive safety we wish we could provide. It reminds us through the openheartedness of its compassion of the infinity of ways in which doing what we can for others might represent the best we can do in terms of saving ourselves.” —Jim Shepard, author of You Think That’s Bad
“In Paris Was the Place Susan Conley has created a vivid portrait of a place and a person. As Willow falls in love, first with the girls she teaches at a detention centre and then with the immigration lawyer charged with helping them, her life becomes increasingly complicated. The result is a suspenseful story, full of moral choices and deep feeling. Willow is an irresistible heroine.” —Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy
“Sensual and seductive, Paris Was the Place pulls you in and doesn't let you go. Find your nearest chair and start reading. With her poet's eye, Conley has woven a vivid, masterful tale of love and its costs.” —Lily King, author of Father of the Rain
“Conley’s first novel allows her to expand her reach with a complex story about a young American woman teaching poetry in Paris in 1989, facing heart-breaking personal challenges that will test her courage and love, as well as a moral and legal dilemma that may prove costly in many ways.” —Bill Bushnell, The Morning Sentinel
“Conley's debut novel zips its readers to the Paris of the 1980s, with a plot centering around a young American woman teaching at a center for immigrant girls. At its heart the story explores the ties between family and friends, but Paris Was the Place also delights around the edges with descriptions of a sky ‘flanged lilac,’ dove gray apartments buildings, cafes with awnings, and crepes with lemon and butter and sugar.” —Reader's Digest: Eight Irresistible Books We're Reading Right Now
“Love of many different kinds powers Susan Conley's first novel, Paris Was the Place. The novel is much more than a love story however. The brief flashbacks are so vivid you would swear the author went through that primal experience.” —Joe Myers, The Stamford Advocate
"Once it took hold of me, it didn’t let go. I loved all the characters that I met along the way. It will be hard to stop reading this book once you start going. A great first novel for Ms. Conley." —Annie Hicks, The Portland Book Review
"The characters in this tale of collegiate expat living [have] deeply felt interactions." —Elle
“Smart and compulsively readable, Paris Was the Place is a bittersweet meditation on responsibility and family, and on the power of words to save us.” —Maryanne O’Hara, author of Cascade
“Susan Conley has written a heartrending and deeply hopeful novel. Its power grows and grows. In patient, gentle prose the book explores global and psychological displacement. Conley does not spare her characters grief or pain—but she gives them the gift of hope, too. Her immigrant girls are tenderly drawn, full of pathos. One feels a need get to close to them, to provide some comfort, to find some way to fix this broken system and this brutal world. Thankfully, Willie Pears—Conley’s big-hearted, clear-eyed narrator—is there.” —Sarah Braunstein, author of The Sweet Relief of Missing Children
“Conley peppers her writing with sensual details—taste, smell, touch—that give the prose a certain meatiness. She gives her reader something to bite into and hold onto. Something to feel. . . . When the sad parts come, they are so interwoven with moments of beauty that the sadness itself seems exquisite. Paris Was the Place reminds us that it is impossible to separate what is hideous from what is lovely in our everyday lives.” —Deirdre Fulton, The Portland Phoenix
“Tenderhearted, earnest, and sincere.” —Publishers Weekly
“Deftly exploring the complexities of friendship, family, and commitment, Conley adroitly demonstrates her infectious passion for Paris through an extensive and intimate portrait of the inner workings concealed behind its seductive façade.” —Booklist
“An affecting debut… The sympathetic storytelling and limpid first-person narration succeed in casting a spell.” —Kirkus