Although it primarily takes place during 1949-1950, there are so many references to the recently ended World War II that the novel provides a dramatic portrayal of that period’s heartache and recovery. Soon after 20-year-old Jacqueline arrives for her junior year of study, she observes that “five years after the Liberation, the city was still struggling to recover from the dark days – central heating and hot water were rare, everyone still so thin, wearing threadbare clothes.”
Jacqueline shares impressions of all that she experiences during her stay, but the war is never far from anyone’s thoughts. “The war had touched everyone in France, each person I met hiding their sorrow behind a fine veneer. I had imagined this a joyful time of hope and rebirth, yet I was discovering a nation still raw with anguish.”
In addition to the wartime past, Jacqueline is also exposed to the current political climate of spies and subterfuge. She learns not all are who they seem and not everyone is to be trusted. This element of intrigue provided additional substance to the novel.
But there are also parties to go to, champagne to sip, country house weekends as well as classes to attend, and papers to write. Due to her parents’ social connections, Jacqueline is introduced to several members of the upper crust and tells of her time at operas, museums, dinners, and events.
Based on the lives of several real people, the novel explores the life of Jacqueline Bouvier before she became American royalty. As the publisher writes, “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.” I highly recommend this one!
Thanks to Mariner Books & NetGalley for a digital advance reader copy. All comments and opinions are my own.