Book Review: Paris Was the Place – Susan Conley

Paris Was the Place cover

Title: Paris Was the Place
Author: Susan Conley
ISBN: 9780307594075
Pages: 368
Release Date: August 6, 2013
Publisher: Knopf
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5


The year is 1989, and Willow Pears (Willie to her friends) is in glorious Paris. She’s there to teach, not just at a local university, but also at a detention center for juveniles who are in France illegally, seeking asylum. As Willow finds love and faces the hardships of life, the realities of the times she lives in sink in as things spiral out of her control.


Paris Was the Place is a novel that tackles many different issues. It’s very much a novel of time and place, though the problems that Conley tackles in the book still seem incredibly relevant. Conley does an excellent job bringing Paris of the late 80s to life for the reader. Her descriptions and the atmosphere she creates are absolutely perfect; readers will feel transported the second they start reading this book.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Paris Was the Place are the teenage girls that Willie works with at the detention center. Many of them are of South Asian descent, facing horrible situations if they are forced to return home. Willie knows she shouldn’t get emotionally involved with these girls, yet she can’t help herself. Indeed, the reader becomes invested in these girls, hopeful that there will be some sort of positive resolution to their problems, yet deep down, knowing full well that these situations don’t usually turn out well. This is a unique premise, and one that Conley treats very well.

There are also countless other plotlines within Paris Was the Place. Willie’s brother, Willie’s love life, Willie’s trip to India (with strange occurrences), Willie coming to terms with her mother’s death—if it sounds like there’s a lot jam packed into this novel, well, that’s because there is, and it doesn’t always flow seamlessly. These storylines in and of themselves are all interesting, but thrown together, they seem jumbled and overly dramatic at times. Indeed, the India trip is especially baffling; serious issues are dealt with only with what seems like a throwaway line or two, and then immediately forgotten in the wake of new drama. That’s not to say the book isn’t well written or interesting—that’s not the case at all—but simply that there’s a little too much going on within its pages.

That being said, Paris Was the Place is still a book that’s absolutely worth reading. Conley’s writing style is conversational and very easy to read. What’s more, Willie is an endearing character that readers will really connect with and appreciate. Despite my issues with the novel, I did enjoy it quite a bit and will be looking forward to Conley’s next book eagerly.

Other books by Susan Conley:

The Foremost Good Fortune

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