The Paris Left Bank neighborhood of St. Germain is most often connected to the era from the 1940s through the 1960s, when Sartre, de Beauvoir and others gathered in its cafes to discuss existentialism and listen to jazz; and the district has also long been associated with American expatriates from Thomas Jefferson to Ernest Hemingway. Johnson, who’s written about Americans in France in Le Divorce and other novels, continues that tradition, living there six months out of the year, in an apartment that looks out onto a four-hundred-year-old chapel built by Queen Margot, first wife of Henry IV. She offers a fractured yet often fascinating walking tour of sorts, explaining, for example, that Place St.-Germain-des-Prés is “cobbled with largish stones, terrible to walk on in high heels”; and that 5 rue Bonaparte has been home to Napoleon’s sister, Pauline Borghese, to painter Edouard Manet and to Pierre Bergé, founder of Yves Saint Laurent. She’s enthralled with the story of The Three Musketeers, explaining how Dumas’s immortal characters were once living people who may have conducted their sword fights on the very spot where she walks daily. This admittedly subjective guide to Paris is at once a quick lesson in history from the sixteenth through the late twentieth centuries as well as an insightful look at the mind of a novelist and her inspiration.
Diane gives an overview of the book:
A two-time finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, Diane Johnson has drawn comparisons to Jane Austen and Edith Wharton with her comedies of manners about Americans living and loving abroad.
Johnson’s books include L’Affaire (2004...