Historical fiction allows you to travel through time, but it can also transport you around the globe. Author Natasha Lester is a big fan of novels as a means of travel. Lester is the author of The Paris Orphan, a work of historical fiction set in Paris during World War II, and her latest novel will make readers feel as though they’ve booked a flight to Paris. Here, Lester shares five of her favorite books set in Paris.
Paris is always a good idea, but unfortunately we can’t get there just by snapping our fingers. Whenever I feel like strolling the boulevards of the City of Lights, but things like work and kids and life and lack of a plane ticket get in the way, I pick up one of these books and transport myself there through words and stories instead.
Dior by Dior by Christian Dior
Christian Dior’s memoir begins with the genesis of the idea to start a fashion house, right through to his first remarkable showing in February 1947, and on through the fifties. This is post-war Paris, a once-fashionable city, unknowingly on the brink of a fashion breakthrough, forged by Dior’s New Look. This book provides insight into the designer’s inspirations and fears and joys, and also a look at Paris, and les Parisiennes, rediscovering their light.
Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky
The story behind this book is as heartbreaking as the book itself: Jewish writer Némirovsky tells a story of resistance and collaboration as Paris falls to the Nazis in June 1940, not knowing that she herself would be deported to Auschwitz before she could finish her own tale. When I wrote about the exodus of civilians from Paris in 1940 in The Paris Seamstress, I had forgotten that I first heard of that devastating time when reading Némirovsky’s book. Her account is powerful, as is everything that follows.
Checkmate by Dorothy Dunnett
In the last book in Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, much of the action takes place in 16th century France and in Paris in particular. This is pre-revolutionary Paris where everything was sumptuous and grand—if you had money. Traverse the palaces, be a spectator at royal ceremonies, listen in to treacherous conversations, marvel at the gowns and jewels and most especially at Paris herself—a much smaller city than she is now but still très spectaculaire—in this sweeping tale of war and love.
As the subtitle suggests—How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved, and Died Under Nazi Occupation—this is a comprehensive and fascinating account of the lives of women in wartime Paris under the rule of the Nazis. Anne Sebba brings to life the stories of ordinary women doing extraordinary and heroic things to save their city, as well as the stories of those who did not do all they could have. She shines a light on the two sides of Paris in the 1940s: one where the parties and the music continued on, and one where the only way out of the darkness was to resist and to fight.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
This is my favorite of all the Paris books. Set in a glorious apartment building, the story unfolds through the eyes of Renée, the concierge, who is privy to the lives of all the building’s inhabitants. To most people, Renée is a typical concierge, someone to be ignored unless her assistance is needed. But Renée is so much more than she appears and, eventually, a 12-year-old girl and a Japanese newcomer to the building help to unravel the real Renée. This book is about the small beauties we all hold within us, if only others were wise enough to see them.
Natasha Lester is a USA Today, internationally bestselling author. Prior to writing, she worked as a marketing executive for L’Oreal, managing the Maybelline brand, before returning to university to study creative writing. Her first historical novel, the bestselling A Kiss from Mr. Fitzgerald, was published in 2016. This was followed by Her Mother’s Secret in 2017 and The Paris Seamstress in 2018. The French Photographer is her latest book (note: this will be published as The Paris Orphan in North America in September 2019). Natasha’s books have been published in the US, the UK, Australia and throughout Europe. She lives in Perth, Western Australia with her three children and loves travelling, Paris, vintage fashion and, of course, books.