Before she was Jackie Kennedy, First Lady of the United States, she was Jacqueline Bouvier, Queen Deb (debutante) in 1947, a product of a modest upbringing with divorced parents and an overbearing mother who is intent on finding her daughter a suitable and prestigious man with whom to form a strategic (and perhaps even loving) union. In her prime courting years, however, Jacqueline is intent on spending a year studying in Paris where she can fully immerse herself in the culture of a war-torn country a half of a world away. Her strong French heritage has always played a key role in her fascination with France, and she thinks there is no better time than now to go on this adventure of a lifetime. Her time in Paris is one filled with learning, love, loss, confusion, fear, delight, wonder, and sincere appreciation. With the Allied victory against the Axis powers being less than a decade ago, Jacqueline finds herself in a country that is slowly trying to pick up the pieces after fighting two, devastating wars in twenty years. Her host family has their share of secrets surrounding their involvement with the Resistance, and Jacqueline quickly finds herself at the threshold of the world’s newest conflict involving Russia, spies, and nuclear weapons. Young idealists who sympathize with Communist ideology challenge her democratic tendencies, and she is both fascinated with and confused by this struggle between two very different groups who both believe their way of thinking is the only way forward for France. Jacqueline’s experiences are shaped not only by the political climate at the time, but also through the company with whom she keeps. Her French and American friends and lover are all significant characters with whom she establishes such deep and meaningful connections that enables her to find out more about herself in 12 months than she knew about herself in the past 20 years. When she returns to America following her coursework abroad, she brings with her a lifelong appreciation for France as well as the knowledge that would be necessary in the future as she accompanied her husband, the President of the United States, to France on diplomatic visits.
Why I read it: My book of the month subscription pick
Trigger warnings: mild sexual content
I could not have loved this book more. I loved the gentle writing style of the author; I felt that it accurately matched Jackie’s gentle nature, and the book could have easily been real diary entries written by Jackie, herself. The book gave many details to the audience, but it also held back when appropriate. For example, I loved how the author would spend an entire chapter appealing to all 5 of the reader’s senses; however, the chapter would often end with a cliffhanger that alluded to something that would either be revealed later in the book or something that we know to be true from history. I loved having a front row seat to France as they rebuilt their country, economy, and lives following the Nazi’s defeat. I loved how Jacqueline appreciated their resilience and determination to live. I loved her relationships with the other characters and, from what I know about Jacqueline Kennedy, this book was true to her character and accurately captured her nature and demeanor.
I admit that my high rating may be skewed by my fascination with the Kennedy’s as well as my intense love for this time-period in history. While I could see how it would be a bit slow to someone who likes fast paced thrillers, I would recommend it to anyone who wants to read a really good story or get even more insight into the woman who captivated hearts as a cultural icon for years.