7 Books for the France-Obsessed Soul

Merci Used book café in Paris. Image from Condé Nast Traveler.

Although we all want to hop on the next flight out to Paris, sometimes jobs, money, school and other inconvenient details get in the way. Luckily, Francophiles can get a dose of French culture and nostalgia by getting lost in French-themed reading. From historical novels to laugh-out-loud memoirs, we’ve compiled seven picks to fuel your France obsession…until you snag that plane ticket, of course.

1. Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Image from Style Safari
Image from Style Safari

This historical novel takes place in Nazi-occupied France during World War II, where older sister Vianne sends her husband off to war, and younger, rebellious Isabelle stays in bustling Paris. Both sisters fight the occupation in their own way, and this page-turning novel will keep you on the edge of your seat with emotional twists, heart-wrenching plot points, and an inside look into Vichy-ruled Paris.

97801431107362. When In French: Love in a Second Language by Lauren Collins

New Yorker writer Lauren Collins details her relationship and ultimate marriage to a Frenchman, the process of learning French, and learning to live her life in this difficult language. This memoir is for all aspiring Francophones who have experienced the embarrassment of trying, and failing miserably, to convey thoughts in French. When In French is funny, informative, and relatable for Americans who have also had a crash course in French.

3. It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris by Patricia Engel

Winner of the International Latino Book Award, It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris follows Lita del Cielo, an introverted young women who moves to Paris to study for a year. In this coming-of-age story, Lita falls in love with Paris—for its architecture, atmosphere and romanticism—and also for a boy, all while learning to grapple with her own identity. This story is wistful and romantic, whisking you into a Paris that you’re nostalgic to leave, along with Lita.

4. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway with Sylvia Beach at the original Shakespeare & Co.
Hemingway with Sylvia Beach at the original Shakespeare & Co.

Every list needs a classic and Hemingway’s bare-bones memoir is truly a treat. Even though Hemingway often details the underbelly of Paris—the drunks, the poor, his own struggling career—his writing also conjures up France’s beauty and romanticism. He takes us through the city’s cafés and restaurants and bookshops, and paints a picture of 1920s Paris that Francophiles will appreciate.

5. Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

A still from the film version of Suite Francais. Image via Indiewire.
A still from the film version of Suite Francais. Image via Indiewire.

Suite Française begins in France in 1940, just as the Germans prepare to invade. These two novellas (published as one book) recount stories about life under occupation.  Némirovsky is able to effectively capture the zeigeist of the period because she herself was a Jew living through the war when she wrote these stories. She was tragically deported to Auschwitz, where she died, and these stories went undiscovered for 64 years, until her daughter found them. Suite Française and Némirovsky’s story became an international sensation upon publication in 2004. 

187303216. Paris by Edward Rutherfurd

Rutherford is known for his enormous, historical fiction books, and this one is set in Paris from 1261 to 1968. This book packs in a ton of historical facts and interwoven narratives. No, it might not be a literary masterpiece, but it’s a terrific way to quickly get a sense of how Paris came into being without dying of boredom in an encyclopedia.

7. Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik

Gopnik’s pitch-perfect essay collection takes us to Paris, not through the eyes of a visitor, but as an American transplant trying to raise a family. We learn quickly that living in Paris with a toddler is perhaps not as romantic as a one-week jaunt around the city. With wit and perception, Gopnik writes  about getting used to cultural differences, learning about a new (read: unglamorous) side of France, and more, all to warm the French-lover’s soul.

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