The Parisian Lives of Three Women: Review of “Dreaming in French” by Alice Kaplan

Alice Kaplan’s “Dreaming in French” captures the lives of three American women who were renowned for their intelligence, strong-will and their significant impact on society.

Although these three women are famous American public figures, this piece of nonfiction does not focus on their lives in America. Rather, Kaplan’s book takes place in the romantic city of Paris.

Though the three women in “Dreaming in French,” Jacqueline Bouiver, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis, are very different characters, each is united by their love for the foreign city and the great influence it had on their lives. It is hard to imagine that Sontag, Davis and Bouiver’s lives can be woven together in a single book, but Kaplan successfully transitions between the ambitious women’s lives.

With keen insight, Kaplan dives into the Parisian lives of these three women during their youthful, lively twenties. The work is separated into three sections with each woman having her own chapter. Kaplan equally pays tribute to Bouiver, Sontag and Davis, in precisely that order, by painting a vivid picture of their worlds as she delves into their academic, social and private lives.

While it may seem that three books are heaped into one without an underlying connection, that is not the case. The book flows smoothly as the reader glides from one woman’s life to another’s. Kaplan is able to find a common thread between the lives of three very distinct individuals by interweaving one woman’s life with another woman’s in clever ways.

As a result, Kaplan’s work is far from dry as these surprising, startling comparisons catch the reader off guard. Each of Kaplan’s characters, who will inhabit very different roles later in life, make their journey to Paris at distinct points in time; Bouvier, the first lady of America, spent her years in Paris during 1949-50, Sontag, a great filmmaker, writer, literary icon and political activist, was in the city from 1957 to 1958 and Davis, a leader of the Communist Party USA, scholar, and author, traveled to Paris in 1963 to 1964. These three striking American women share a zeal for knowledge, a remarkably beauty and a passion to become entirely immersed in the Parisian culture.

Kaplan’s “Dreaming in French” effectively transports the reader to France by unearthing a rich cultural context and by incorporating important historical events. At the end of book, the reader will be “dreaming in french” as he or she becomes engrossed in the Parisian lives of these three amazing women.

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