In 1949, a future first lady begins her junior year of college abroad in postwar France. Jacqueline Bouvier is a debutante from a financially precarious family; her mother wants her to marry well and soon. Jacqueline, however, wants to explore her world before settling down in marriage. She enters a France that is still showing the effects of war, with rationing in place and shifting political alliances among her friends. Her host family was in the French Resistance, with host mother Comtesse de Renty having survived Ravensbruck. There's a swirling communist movement among the students in Paris. Her beau, Jack Marquand, infiltrates student communist cells on behalf of the CIA. Jacqueline views this act as a betrayal of friends, yet it adds to her political awareness, which will serve her well in her future marriage to JFK. Mah (The Lost Vintage) entrances with her descriptions of France, its food, and its scenery. Jacqueline's awakening and understanding of the political world around her adds depth to this novel, taking it beyond the romance between Jacqueline and Marquand. The novel is also rich with historic detail, but the author does conflate several living people into composite characters; she notes where this was done. VERDICT Readers, especially those fascinated by all things Kennedy, will enjoy.—Jennie Mills
A delightful and surprisingly insightful novel follows the junior year abroad of Jacqueline Bouvier, a few years before she became Jackie Kennedy.
Telling the story from the perspective of the young Jacqueline, with only a few flashes forward to her future life, Mah moves season by season through her year, beginning in the fall of 1949 and ending in the summer of 1950. Making good use of historical and biographical details, but not strictly bound by them, Mah follows her heroine from the ocean-liner journey where, as the sole Vassar student in the group, she gets to know the rowdy Smith students with whom she will be studying at the Sorbonne, on through her stay with a host family and her meetings with various French natives of whom her socially conscious mother would definitely not approve. Mah convincingly depicts this year as a pivotal one in Bouvier's life, both a sentimental and a political education. Jacqueline has her first real romantic and sexual affair with—and has her heart broken by—aspiring novelist John Marquand. And, after having been raised to view communism as strictly evil, she has her eyes opened to the complexities of international politics by her host mother, a concentration camp survivor, and her host sister, who may or may not be a spy. Mah, who clearly loves Paris and all the details of French living, affectionately and precisely captures life in the post–World War II city, with many deprivations but a spirit of hope. Her Jacqueline—bright, observant, and a little naïve—is an engaging and believable character, and it's easy to imagine how her experiences during this year will shape her future life. While Jackie runs into people the reader will recognize, Mah doesn't overstate their importance in her life: Novelist James Baldwin, for example, appears and quickly disappears as Jimmy, one of several writers she runs into in a nightclub. Staying within the consciousness of Jacqueline as she is at this point, Mah smoothly walks the line between biography and fiction.
Fans of the former first lady and Paris should be beguiled.
Captivating...Mah channels Kennedy and brings postwar Paris to life with exquisite detail and insight.” — People
“In Jacqueline in Paris, Ann Mah brilliantly imagines what life was like in 1949 for a college student named Jacqueline Bouvier as she embarked on her junior year abroad. The alluring descriptions of postwar Paris (the food, the scenery) will make you want to hop on a plane, and the compelling storyline, set amid the rise of the Communist movement in France, is made even more thrilling by the fact that we know where this particular woman is headed.” — Real Simple
"In beautiful prose with loving attention to detail Mah expertly evokes Jacqueline Bouvier’s heady year abroad, one that she later considered the happiest of her life." — Toronto Star
“Delightful...Mah smoothly walks the line between biography and fiction. Fans of the former first lady and Paris should be beguiled.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Mah (The Lost Vintage) imagines the education of Jacqueline Bouvier in 1949 Paris in this sumptuous outing. … Mah brings insight and vivid details to young Jacqueline Bouvier’s adventurous spirit. Historical fiction fans will be drawn like moths to a flame.” — Publishers Weekly
"Mah’s exemplary mix of literary and journalistic skills pays off in this extensively researched novel about the woman who became America’s most iconic and enigmatic first lady.” — Booklist
“Vibrant and sensitive. This is the Jackie Kennedy origin story we’ve all been waiting for.” — Allison Larkin, author of The People We Keep
"Jacqueline in Paris is a triumph of storytelling: breathless, sensual, rigorously researched, and with twists that will leave readers thirsting for more. Like the city that serves as its setting, the novel immerses the reader in an environment both intimately familiar and utterly new. A brilliant novel more than worthy of its intriguing subject." — Bruce Holsinger, USA Today-bestselling author of The Gifted School and The Displacements
“Before she became the First Lady, Jacqueline Bouvier had the hopes and dreams of all of us in our youth. In this enchanting, engrossing tale of her time in Paris, we discover the young woman whose ambitions propel her to the City of Light, seduced by jazz and haunted by the recent Occupation. Romance collides with newfound maturity as Jackie paves the path to her later global fame. Ann Mah’s sensitive portrayal of a woman on the cusp of inevitable change is vivid and unputdownable.” — C.W. Gortner, author of Mademoiselle Chanel
"It is 1949. A young Jacqueline Bouvier has a year to find herself while studying abroad, and in Mah's talented hands, readers find themselves captivated. Jacqueline in Paris beautifully captures the soul of a city as well as the spirit of a remarkable woman." — Steven Rowley, bestselling author of The Editor and The Guncle
"Before there was Camelot, there was a Vassar student in Paris. Ann Mah's Jacqueline in Paris paints a beautiful, richly textured portrait of both a woman and an era. Some novels are windows into a life, letting you peer through a glass; Jacqueline in Paris is an open door, inviting you to walk along with Jacqueline as she explores France, filtering myth from reality, and discerning the true strengths of both her adopted country and her own character. This book is the very best of biographical fiction!" — Lauren Willig, New York Times bestselling author of Band of Sisters
“Jacqueline in Paris beautifully evokes postwar Paris. The details are exquisite, and Mah’s writing shines in its close attention to place and sensory details. In bringing Jacqueline Bouvier’s transformative Paris interlude to the page, Mah offers readers a lovely, immersive visit to a vanished city.” — BookPage
“In this coming-of-age novel, Ann Mah imagines what life was like for Bouvier prior to her time in the White House.” — Town & Country