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Paris was the Place

Susan's debut novel, Paris Was the Place, was an Amazon Big Fall Books Pick for fiction, an Indie Next Pick and an Elle Magazine Readers Prize Pick. People magazine called it “a satisfying cassoulet of questions about home, comfort and love, served with a fresh perspective on a dazzling city.”

In Paris Was the Place, Susan offers a beautiful meditation 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. Willie Pears begins teaching at a center for immigrant girls in Paris all hoping for French asylum. 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, and she soon falls for Macon, a passionate French lawyer. 

Gita, a young girl at the detention center, becomes determined to escape her circumstances, no matter the cost. And just as Willie is faced with a decision that could have dire consequences for 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 for the people we care about. It’s a story that reaffirms the ties that bind us to one another. The novelist Richard Russo describes Paris Was the Place as “by turns achingly beautiful and brutally unjust, as vividly rendered as its characters, whose joys and struggles we embrace as our own.”  

Reviews for Paris was the Place

“Conley’s debut novel is a satisfying cassoulet of questions about home, comfort and love, served with a fresh perspective on a dazzling city.”

— People Magazine

“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.”

“In an affecting debut, Willow Pears learns not only to love, but also what matters when dealing with loss and problems that have no solutions. The sympathetic storytelling and limpid first-person narration succeeds in casting a spell.”

Paris Was the Place 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

“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

“What’s a more seductive place to set a novel than in Paris? This story of a young American woman working abroad is both delicious and poignant, a tale of love and loss and, ultimately, hope. When Willie Pears helps a desperate girl escape immigration detention, she endangers her career and her budding romance with a French lawyer. The love of friends and family help her through this crisis, and the tragedy to come. Gorgeously written, this book had me in tears by the end.”