Paris: A Literary Visit

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These six Classics are perfect for the aspiring flâneuse or flaneur. Curzio Malaparte’s Diary of a Foreigner in Paris collects the Kaputt author’s 1947 journal of life in Paris after fourteen years away—complete with encounters with Albert Camus and Jean Cocteau. It’s a fascinating look into the mind of a man who, as Barry Gifford puts it, “moved back and forth politically and professionally like a ping pong ball.” John Glassco’s Memoirs of Montparnasse, a favorite of Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje, recounts his rollicking time in Paris as a young man absconding from Montreal. Meanwhile, Paris Vagabond is native Frenchman Jean-Paul Clébert’s story of taking to the streets and joining the Resistance.

On the fiction side, Mavis Gallant’s Paris Stories (selected by Ondaatje) gather the best of the frequent New Yorker contributor’s tales set in the city, where she lived for much of her life. You’ll meet expatriates and exiles, knowing children and straying saints—each one seeming unflaggingly real. In the Café of Lost Youth, from Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano, uses multiple narrators to tell the story of the 1950s Paris underground: a shadowy circle of writers, criminals, drinkers, and drifters. And in Like Death, by nineteenth-century master Guy de Maupassant, the love affair between a sought-after painter and a politician’s wife unfurls slowly as her daughter comes of age.