35 Sensational Reads for the Francophiles on your Gift List

If you’re like me, you enjoy giving books as presents. A couple of years ago, it occurred to me to share a list of my favorite sensational reads related to France. I’ve updated the list in time for the holiday season. My latest entries are denoted by **. Don’t be intimidated by the French titles. All of these books are available in English.

Historical Fiction

Suite Française

Suite Francaise

Countless novels take place during World War II, but those written by people who experienced it firsthand often stand above the pack. Such is the case with Suite Française, written by Irène Némirovsky in the 1940s. The manuscript was lost when Némirovsky, a Ukrainian Jew, was discovered by Nazi soldiers and hauled off to Auschwitz. Thankfully, it resurfaced more than 6 decades later. You can read my detailed review here. The book is available in both French and English.

All the Light We Can Not See

All the Light We Cannot See

Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See is a masterful piece of fiction. The story takes place during World War II and follows the lives of two central characters, Marie-Laure, a blind French girl living in Paris who is forced to flee the Nazi occupation with her father, and Werner Pfennig, a German orphan and talented tinkerer who joins the German army and ultimately ends up in France. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has it all: beautiful writing, historical accuracy, and two gripping narratives, which alternate from chapter to chapter and ultimately collide.

** A Son at the Front

Book cover, A Son at the Front

The first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, Edith Wharton, a wealthy New York aristocrat, lived in Paris during World War I. Throughout the conflict, she dedicated herself to France’s defeat of the Germans, working in relief centers and trying to use her high-society connections to enlist U.S. engagement. She wrote A Son at the Front in 1919. I often state that I prefer nonfiction to fiction but Wharton’s novel brought me to a new realization: the fiction that captures my deepest affection is almost always written by someone living during the historical period in which the story takes place. A Son at the Front is a work of fiction, but it contains so many subtle details about how upper-class people living in Paris spent their days during the war that it also carries the authentic account of a keen eyewitness. You’ll find my deeper analysis along with excerpts here.

The Invisible Bridge

The Invisible Bridge

I bought The Invisible Bridge, by Julie Orringer, after looking for fiction that would teach me something about the history of Hungary. I’m slowly starting to learn more about Eastern Europe and this book caught my eye because the story takes place in both Paris and Budapest. This is another World War II novel that reminded me of epic classics like Les Miserables or Doctor Zhivago. Orringer is a master storyteller who interweaves an impressive quantity of historical detail. I found myself in awe of her depth of knowledge. Indeed, the story is based on the lives of her grandparents. I loved the sections on Paris, learned much about conditions in Hungary during the war, and can definitively say that this book brings something new to the burgeoning mass of WWII fiction.

The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain, is a fictional account of Hadley Richardson’s marriage to Ernest Hemingway. The story is anchored on the time that the couple lived in Paris, cavorting with other members of the literary jet set, such as Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. McLain delivers a delectable portrayal of Paris in the Jazz Age. The only way to make reading this book better would be to read it in Paris while sipping coffee in the very cafés that Hemmingway and Richardson used to frequent.

** The Alice Network

Cover of The Alice Network

I found The Alice Network, by Kate Quinn, to be a very enjoyable and informative read. Quinn did her homework, basing this novel on the real-life Alice Network, a ring of female spies working for England inside German-occupied France during World War I. The book juxtaposes two storylines. The first follows the fictional life of Eve Gardiner, working under the direction of spymaster Lili whose character is based on the real-life Louise de Bettignies. The second takes place in 1947 and tells the story of Charlie St. Clair who is searching for her cousin Rose. In the aftermath of WWII, Rose can not be located. Both adventures unfold in France and connect when Charlie enlists the jaded and disillusioned Eve to help her determine whether her cousin is missing or dead. This book contains many references to real people and places, which often sent me to Wikipedia to delve even deeper. I came away having read a page-turner that taught me a lot.

** Giovanni’s Room

Cover of Giovanni's Room

Giovanni’s Room is the first book that I read by James Baldwin and it made me immediately regret having taken so long to experience his work. The story unfolds in 1950s Paris, a conservative time in a city where anything is possible. The central character, David, is a young American ex-patriot who is trying to figure out what to do with his life. His quest is overshadowed by his conflicted sexuality, which is fettered by society’s dictates. To categorize this masterpiece as LGBT literature is falling well short of the mark. Baldwin’s prose is so sincere and unyielding that it opens the reader’s eyes and heart to a reality that is worlds away from their own. Ultimately, Giovanni’s Room addresses the complexities of choosing between a path that all external signs deem successful or following one’s nature.



Incendies is a masterful play, by Wajdi Mouawad. Mouawad, who was born in Lebanon, fled to Paris with his family at the age of 8, during the country’s civil war. Unable to obtain permanent residency in France, the family eventually landed in Quebec where Mouawad earned a diploma from l’École nationale de théâtre du Canada à Montréal.

Incendies tells the story of twins, Jeanne and Simon, who are called to their estranged mother’s lawyer’s office for a reading of her last will and testament. There they receive two letters, one to be delivered to a father in Lebanon, whom they presumed was dead, and the other to a brother, previously unknown to have existed. This beautifully crafted drama, partially based on the life of Lebanese communist militant, Soha Bechara, ends with an unexpected and priceless twist. A movie, based on the book, was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2011 Academy Awards. The English translation, by Linda Gaboriau, is titled Scorched.

Le Premier Accroc Coûte Deux Cents Francs

Le Premier accroc coute deux cents francs

Le Premier Accroc Coûte Deux Cents Francs was written by Elsa Triolet, a journalist and member of the French Resistance. The book is composed of 4 novellas that the author penned during World War II. In 1944, it won France’s highest literary prize, Le Prix Goncourt. While this is a work of fiction, the stories exude authenticity, having been written by a courageous member of the Resistance who risked her life in an effort to overthrow the Nazis. You’ll find my complete review here. The English translation is titled A Fine of Two Hundred Francs.


The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

The Black Count

One of my favorite French classics is The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexander Dumas. So, I was thrilled to learn that the 18th-century story is based on the actual life of Dumas’ father, General Alex Dumas who was the son of a Black Dominican slave. In The Black Count, author Tom Reiss demonstrates that true stories are often better than fiction. A meticulous historian, Reiss spent 10 years uncovering the details of General Dumas’ life. One of the remarkable elements of this story is the fact that the elder Dumas, of direct African descent, was an extraordinarily distinguished General in the French army. Yet, almost no one knew of him until Reiss’ book. This Pulitzer Prize-Winning Biography from 2013 is packed with every bit as much swashbuckling bravado as The Count of Monte Cristo and it really happened.

The Story of French

The Story of French

The Story of French, by Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow, is the first history of what I find to be the most beautiful language in the world. The authors explore the lasting popularity of French, which was, at one time, the pre-eminent language of literature, science, and diplomacy. I provide a more thorough review of this book in two posts from 2020: The Mystifying Popularity of the French Language Revealed and The Story of French and How it Became a Remarkably Popular Language.

In Vino Duplicitas

In Vino Duplicitas

In Vino Duplicitas, by Peter Hellman, is actually an American story but it recounts the talents and trickery of Rudy Kurniawan, the world’s most notorious counterfeiter of ultrafine French wine. Hellman, a journalist living in New York City, began investigating Kurniwan’s trajectory in 2008 for Wine Spectator. His research into the young and unassuming Indonesian uncovered a master con man who managed to swindle some of the top wine producers, vendors, and aficionados in the world. I’ve written three posts on Kurniawan (shown below), relying in part on Hellman’s book. In Vino Duplicitas is a welcome addition to the bookshelves of francophiles, wine lovers, and anyone who enjoys true crime involving the rich and powerful.

** Lafayette in the Somewhat United States

Cover of Lafayette in the Somewhat United States

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is a refreshing take on history by American humorist and author, Sarah Vowell. I love Vowell’s voice as much as her writing and so, using the Libby app, I downloaded the audiobook. In case you haven’t heard of him, the Marquis de Lafayette was an adventure-seeking French aristocrat who became an American general and greatly aided George Washington in winning the Revolutionary War.

Vowell enlists her delightful wit and an impressive amount of research to retell Lafayette’s story. Her book is highly entertaining even if her prose fails to capture the exact ambiance in which history unfolded. An example: “Researching Lafayette’s role in the Women’s March of 1789 required me to revisit my least favorite building on earth, the morally and architecturally bankrupt compendium of gilded nonsense and silken flimflam known as the Chateau de Versailles.” In my opinion, there’s no phrase that better describes Versailles than this one. This book is perfect for people who would like to learn more about France’s pivotal role in winning American independence from Britain but who are not likely to read an unvarnished recounting of the facts.

** Enlightening the World

Enlightening the World

Enlightening the World, by Philipp Blom, recounts the unfathomable effort that went into creating the world’s first all-encompassing encyclopedia. At the end of the 18th century, primarily under the direction of Denis Diderot, many of Europe’s greatest minds and engravers joined forces to produce 28 massive volumes of articles and illustrations, describing all of human knowledge. The embattled project, which sought to promote rational thinking and secularism, took over 16 years to complete. Blom introduces readers to the men behind the project, the logistics of culling the knowledge of experts in an age well before the invention of even the telegraph, the difficulties of organizing and cross-referencing thousands of paragraphs and drawings by hand, and the powerful forces that threatened to shut it all down.

Blom’s visually engaging pages are peppered with etchings from the exhaustive compilation. This is one of my favorite books of nonfiction, a jaw-dropping account that converted me from a passing admirer of Diderot to an absolute fanatic of the man.

** When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944

When Paris Went Dark

When Paris Went Dark, by Ronald C. Rosbottom delivers a groundbreaking account of how Parisians survived during the Nazi Occupation of their beloved city. Rosbottom draws upon eyewitness testimonials, diaries, newspaper articles, official reports, letters, and other forms of media to reconstruct what life must have been like with the sound of German jackboots clattering outside one’s window. Full disclosure, I have not read this National Book Award Nominee cover to cover. It’s an easy book to jump about in but eventually, I’ll get to every page. Ultimately, Rosbottom has the reader ponder how they might behave if faced with brutal and unrelenting oppression. Between 1940 and 1944, some French citizens were forced into hiding, others fought back, and many collaborated with the Germans, but the majority of people laid low until the war was over.

** A Writer’s Paris: A Guided Journey for the Creative Soul

A Writer's Paris

In A Writer’s Paris, psychotherapist and creativity coach, Eric Maisel, intertwines tips for improving your writing and observational skills, with lively accounts of his wanderings in Paris. Maisel’s recipe for how to write a novel is absurdly simple: rent a room in Paris for six months; devote six hours per day to writing, two hours in a café, two in a park, and two in your cramped studio; and, while strolling between these locations, take in the sights, sounds, and smells of the City of Lights. At the end of your stay, you’ll have a book.

Does Maisel’s formula work? I’d love to give it a shot, but so far I’m settling for transferring some of his insights into my writing practice. Whether you wish to produce a novel or simply improve your writing, or painting, or the camera roll on your smartphone, A Writer’s Paris will give you food for thought and needn’t be put into practice on the streets of France’s capital to be valuable.


** A Moveable Feast

Paris est une fête

Several years ago, a good friend gave me a copy of Paris est une fête, the French translation of A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway. I’d only read a few of Hemmingway’s short stories and thought that before I tackled a translation of his work, I should become more familiar with it in English. But last spring, while packing for a trip to Paris, I scanned my shelves for a suitable literary companion and this book jumped into my hands. It turned out to be the perfect read. I hadn’t realized that it was published after Hemingway’s death and is his only work resembling an autobiography. It covers his years as a struggling writer living in France. If you know someone who is heading to Paris soon, this is the perfect bon voyage gift for them to savor while sipping du vin in a local café, just as Hemmingway did.

** La Gloire de Mon Père

Cover La Gloire de mon père

La Gloire de mon père is the first book of a 3-part memoir by French filmmaker Marcel Pagnol. Billed as a 20th-century classic, this book is a collection of short stories from Pagnol’s childhood in Provence that are grounded by the author’s reverence for his anticlerical and lighthearted father. Pagnol’s tales resemble those of Mark Twain—ordinary boyhood diversions transformed into humorous scrapes in bucolic settings with no shortage of societal commentary. An international bestseller, the English version is titled My Father’s Glory.

I listened to the audio version available on Audible and read by Pagnol. His thick Provençal accent was at first difficult to absorb but, after a few chapters, transformed into an added bonus. Pagnol is a lively narrator and his recorded locution is a remarkable treasure. I highly recommend this fun, uncontroversial book that transports the reader to a simpler time in an idyllic setting, pre-World War I Provence.

** Une femme

Une femme

Une femme, by Annie Ernaux, recipient of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature, is an autobiographical portrayal of the author’s relationship with her mother. I have to admit to being perplexed by Ernaux’s Nobel standing. After being underwhelmed by two previous books by this bestselling French author, I decided to read no further. But, the French reading circle I belong to thought otherwise, and I’m glad their Fall selection forced me to take another look.

Ernaux’s relationship with her mother was strained and distant, a stark contrast to the relationship I had with mine. Yet, daughters are often attached to their mothers, even after years of trying to free themselves from their influence. Suffering from the slow deterioration inflicted by Alzheimer’s disease, Erneaux’s fiercely independent mother eventually came to live with her. Using a characteristically indifferent writing style, Erneaux attempts to reconstruct her mother’s life while exploring their unshakable bond and the alienating acts they both committed that resulted in the author’s emotional estrangement.

While much of Ernaux’s story is difficult for me to relate to, I greatly appreciated the time I spent reading it. The book’s honest reporting caused me to reflect upon my own mother’s life and that of my grandmother, upon death, dying, and caregiving, and upon the unflappable love we have for those who brought us into this world. The English translation, by Tonya Leslie, is titled A Woman’s Story.

L’Énigma du Retour

L'Enigma du retour

Knowing nothing about the Haitian-Canadian author, Dany Laferrière, I stumbled upon a used copy of L’Énigma du Retour a few years ago and thought it looked interesting. I was pleased to discover that this book is a treasure for readers and writers alike.

Laferrière’s prose is unlike anything I’ve come across. The best words I can conjure to describe it are stream-of-consciousness poetry. The book opens with a phone call informing Laferrière of his father’s unexpected death. Rattled and perplexed, the author returns to Haiti after a 3-decade absence, retracing the life of a parent he barely knew. Laferrière is a keen observer who seems capable of perfectly placing each word on the page. There are few books that I vow to return to. This one is absolutely worth a second read—both to revisit the story and to reconsider the unique craftsmanship that this author brings to his work. The English translation, by David Homel, is titled The Enigma of the Return.

Memoirs of a Breton Peasant

Memoirs of a Breton Peasant

Memoirs of a Breton Peasant, by Jean-Marie Déguignet, is one of the most fascinating autobiographies that I’ve read. Déguignet’s work is unique because very few peasants could read and write. Yet, Déguignet, who was born in 1834 managed to learn French (not the native tongue in Brittany) and keep copious journals throughout his life. His manuscripts weren’t discovered until nearly a century after he died, impoverished and cast off by society. If you think that the journal of a 19th-century bumpkin can only appeal to historians, think again. Déguignet’s story has all the intrigue of a well-crafted novel. Available in French as Mémoires d’un paysan bas-breton. A more thorough review is found here.

En finir avec Eddie Bellegeule

En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule

Most of the contemporary memoirs from France that become bestsellers are written by privileged expatriates, describing their troubles resettling in France and setting up shop. What I love about En finir avec Eddie Bellegeule, by Édouard Louis, is that it provides a window into a part of France that is rarely even imagined here in America.

Louis, whose given name is Eddy Bellegueule, grew up gay in a working-class town of Northern France. Picture poverty, racism, homophobia, violence, poor schools, and yes, sub-standard healthcare. Louis’ often gut-wrenching childhood anecdotes paint a tragic picture of the cruel world from which he managed to escape. However, knowing that Louis wrote this book at the age of 19 and that it’s sold over 300,000 copies in France and has been translated into 20 different languages, transforms his early tragedy into triumph. I also read and appreciated Qui a tué mon père by the same author and plan to read more of Louis’ short autobiographical works. The English translation, by Michael Lucey, is titled The End of Eddy.

** Dora Bruder

Dora Bruder

Written by Patrick Modiano, who won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature, Dora Bruder recounts the author’s search to uncover the fate of a 15-year-old Jewish girl who vanished from the streets of Paris in 1941. Modiano learned of Bruder’s disappearance when he stumbled upon a notice, placed by her parents in the Paris Soir, a leading newspaper of the time. The parents were naively hoping to find their daughter, assumed to have run away from her Catholic boarding school. Born on the outskirts of Paris in 1945, Modiano’s œuvre, even his novels, are deeply personal. His father, who was Jewish, managed to survive in Paris throughout the war, a mystery that underlies many of Modiano’s explorations. His 10-year investigation into what happened to the missing Dora reveals much about French complicity during the Nazi occupation as well as Modiano’s ongoing struggle to come to terms with his family’s past.

Young Adult

Anna and the French Kiss

Anna and the French Kiss

Full disclosure, I haven’t read Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins, but my daughter Rita has and she absolutely loved it. I feel as if this book did more to endear her to France than I ever could have. Anna is an American teen who is sent to live in a boarding school in Paris for her senior year of high school. This feel-good teen romance isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. However, for the proper readership, it just might instill a desire to learn the French language and someday study in France. Such was the case with Rita and a handful of her 14-year-old friends.

Petit Pays

Petit Pays

Petit Pays, by Gaël Faye, won Le Prix Goncourt des Lycéens in 2016. This prize is France’s equivalent of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Petit Pays is a coming-of-age story about growing up in Burundi, a country where France still has a strong influence. Many parts of this story are absolutely delightful, depicting a childhood of freedom and frolicking, not unlike that of Tom Sawyer’s. Children in this part of the world, however, often must grow up quickly. The second half of the book intermixes successive waves of danger and disorder with everyday life, as violence and civil war spill into Burundi from Rwanda. Numerous events in the book are factual and the central character, Gabriel, and his family are based on Faye’s personal history. The English translation, by Sarah Ardizzone, is titled Small Country.

** L’Art de Perdre

L'Art de perdre

L’Art de Perdre, by one of France’s newest literary superstars, Alice Zeniter, tells the multi-generational story of a Franco-Algerian family. The book is divided into three parts, beginning with Ali, a relatively prosperous landowner who lives in northern Algeria and is conscripted by France to fight in World War II. After surviving the Battle of Monte Cassino, in Italy, Ali returns home only to find brewing dissatisfaction with the French government. Over time, Ali’s French allegiance erodes his position as a community leader, and eventually, unwilling to join forces with the FLN, Ali is forced to flee to France with his wife and young son, Hamid.

Part 2 follows Hamid’s life, growing up in a refugee camp in southern France and facing overt hostility from the French population. As an angry adolescent, he wants nothing to do with his parents’ patrimony. Wishing to consign his Algerian roots to the dust of the Sahara, Hamid embraces assimilation and hides his family’s past from his children.

Part 3 follows Hamid’s daughter Naima, a successful curator in a contemporary art gallery. While organizing a show for an Algerian artist who fled the violent civil war of the 1990s, Naima realizes she knows almost nothing about her heritage. Her father either refuses or no longer remembers enough to share any details with her. Her grandfather has died and left her with only a handful of anecdotes. Determined to unbury the past, she heads to Algeria to discover a part of her identity and uncover her family’s secrets.

It’s not surprising that L’Art de Perdre received the 2017 Prix Goncourt des lycéens as well as Le Monde‘s Prix Litéraire. Zeniter packs so much into this finely crafted saga—war, colonialism, immigration, assimilation, and ultimately an analysis of what can be lost when previous generations are exposed to repeated trauma. The English translation, by Frank Wynne, is titled The Art of Losing.

Children’s Books

The Family Under the Bridge

The Family Under the Bridge

The Family Under the Bridge is an endearing early-reader chapter book that won a Newbery Award in 1959. Its author, Natalie Savage Carlson, was born in Virginia but lived in Paris for much of her adult life. This is the story of a Parisian “hobo” who one day discovers 3 young children squatting on his usual roost beneath a bridge spanning the Seine. He initially regards these young “starlings” as pests to be shooed away, along with their newly evicted mother. Over time, however, he realizes that he cannot turn his back on the struggling family. Through a series of adventures, involving gypsies, a trip to the Louvre, and Santa Claus, the hobo transforms into a doting surrogate grandfather. This is a heartwarming story that gives young readers an early taste of the streets, markets, and museums of Paris.

Family Under the Bridge-Illustration
Illustration from The Family Under the Bridge, by Garth Williams

Catherine Certitude

Catherine Certitude

You may be familiar with the French author, Patrick Modiano, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2014. Modiano has written dozens of books, many of which deal with members of the French population who collaborated with the Germans during World War II. However, few people realize that Modiano is also the author of a delightful children’s novel called Catherine Certitude. Illustrated by Jean-Jaques Sempé, this book is for anyone who loves New York, Paris, ballet, devoted fathers, and the simple pleasures of life. The English translation, by William Rodarmor, shares the same title.

Catherine Certitude-Illustration
Illustration from Catherine Certitude, by Jean-Jaques Sempé

Graphic Novels

Aya de Yopougon

Aya de Yopougon

Aya de Yopougon, written by Marguerite Abouet and illustrated by Clément Oubrerie, is perhaps my favorite graphic novel series. The 19-year-old Aya is a college student, studying to become a doctor in Yopougon, an affluent suburb of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast. The novel presents a cast of colorful characters, many of whom rely on Aya to help them through a variety of scrapes and scandals. Abouet’s storylines are influenced by her own life, growing up in the Ivory Coast before moving to France. Oubrerie’s illustrations add dazzling charm to each plot. This is one series I hated to see come to an end. The English translation, by Alisia Grace Chase, is simply titled Aya. You can find my longer review here.

Kiki de Montparnasse

Kiki de Montparnasse

Kiki de Montparnasse, written by José-Louis Bocquet and illustrated by Catel Muller, is a biography of Alice Prin. Prin, a.k.a. Kiki, was a French muse and cabaret singer who posed before a multitude of prominent artists that lived in Paris during the 1920s and ’30s. The book presents Kiki’s early childhood followed by an unimaginable series of encounters with artists such as Modigliani, Picasso, Cocteau, and Fujito, to name a few. Kiki’s longest-lasting partner was the famous photographer Man Ray. Art enthusiasts speculate that Kiki is the most painted and photographed artist’s model in history. She’s a fascinating figure that more people should know about. After reading this award-winning graphic novel, I wrote about Kiki in a couple of posts, found below. The English translation, by Nora Mahoney, is also called Kiki de Montparnasse.

Le Photographe

Le Photographe

In 1986, amid the Soviet-Afghan war, the French photojournalist, Didier Lefèvre, traveled to Afghanistan to help document a humanitarian mission by Doctors Without Borders. Lefèvre stayed true to the assignment for 3 months, during which time he shot over 15,000 photos and lost 14 teeth due to malnutrition and exhaustion. After his return to France, most of his photos remained unpublished for nearly two decades. Fortunately, one of Lefèvre’s close friends, cartoonist Emmanuel Guibert, encouraged him to combine his snapshots with Guibert’s artwork to make a graphic novel about the experience. With the help of colorist Frédéric Lemercier, they spent 2 years creating a 3-volume graphic novel series that documents Lefèvre’s journey into Afghanistan, the medical mission, and his dangerous solo trek out of the country.

Le Photographe provides a view of Afghanistan that would be impossible to convey in a text-only format. Guibert’s accompanying artwork fills in those scenes that Lefèvre witnessed or learned of but was unable to capture satisfactorily with his camera. This is a masterwork on so many levels, suitable for fans of nonfiction, graphic novels, Afghan history, war, or the French NGO Médecins sans frontières. The English translation, by Alexis Siegel, is titled The Photographer.



Persepolis is a 4-volume memoir, written and illustrated by French-Iranian author Marjane Satrapi. This graphic novel recounts Satrapi’s childhood, growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. When she was just 14, her parents sent her to Europe to escape the clutches of the increasingly tyrannical Iranian government and to obtain a Western education. With little or no support system to welcome her in the west, Satrapi struggled mightily to assimilate. In the midst of unimaginable strain, she employed satire and her rebellious spirit to carry on without the support of her family. Satrapi is a captivating storyteller whose imagination and sense of humor ease the reader through a multitude of unfamiliar and stressful situations.

Persepolis has been translated into 24 different languages and won dozens of international awards, making Satrapi one of France’s best-known contemporary authors. The English translation goes by the same name. You’ll find my longer review here.

La Légèreté

La Légèrité

La Légèreté, by French author and illustrator, Catherine Meurisse, is another memoir. Meurisse survived the deadly terrorist attack on the offices of the satirical French weekly, Charlie Hebdo, in 2015. Twelve of Meurisse’s colleagues were killed in the attack. In La Légèrité, Meurisse recounts her devastating collapse following the assault and the hard-fought battle to restore her mental health and return to work as a satirical cartoonist. Despite Meurisse’s portrayal of potentially heart-wrenching subject matter, this memoir is full of life and hopefulness. The English translation, by James Hogan & Matt Madden, is titled Lightness. You’ll find my longer review here.

** L’Arabe du Futur

Graphic Novel, The Arab of the Future

Last but not least is one of my favorite graphic memoirs, which is told in a series of 6 volumes. L’Arabe du Futur, by Riad Sattouf, covers the author’s life from his earliest memories as a toddler to his earliest successes as a young graphic novelist. Bouncing between his father’s native village in Syria and his mother’s home in Normandy, much of Sattouf’s upbringing is dysfunctional, cruel, and disappointing while at the same time tender, resilient, and lighthearted. To most Westerners, Sattouf’s story is full of unfamiliar and unexpected circumstances. Yet, his sparsely-rendered frames yield an irresistibly relatable world. You’ll find my longer review, as well as many sample frames, here.

Where to Buy

Many of the books listed here, even some written in French, are available on Amazon. However, if possible, don’t forget your local independent bookstore. I highly recommend Bookshop.org. They have a wide selection and part of the proceeds from your order will go directly to local booksellers in your area. There’s also a fabulous new online French bookseller, named Lireka, that doesn’t charge shipping fees. I recently priced out an order of French graphic novels and Lireka’s prices came in well under what Amazon could offer.

Your Recommendations

Are you familiar with or have you read any of these books? What did you think? Are there any books with connections to France that you have found to be sensational? Please share below.

About Carol A. Seidl

Serial software entrepreneur, writer, translator, and mother of 3. Avid follower of French media, culture, history, and language. Lover of books, travel, history, art, cooking, fitness, and nature. Cultivating connections with francophiles and francophones.


  1. This detailed and informative post couldn’t have arrived at a better time. You have solved several of my present giving dilemmas – thank you!

  2. What a treasure trove, Carol! I wish life didn’t interfere with my simply moving down the list, one after the other.

    • So, many good books, so little time. I know I’ll never get through even half of my Want To Read list. Maybe the next time you’re looking for something relating to France, you’ll find a title here that seems right for the moment. Thanks for stopping by Annie.

  3. Tous mes compliments “Carole”. You’ve been busy. Strange that so many of those books are about war, isn’t it?
    I didn’t like Paula McLain’s “biography” of Beryl Markham… I felt she did not understand Markham or Africa for that matter… But then I am picky about books on Africa.
    A million thanks for the mention of Lireka. FNAC in Paris charges exorbitant shipping costs, so does Amazon France… So I’ll give them a try. In January. They must be swamped right now…
    Tout va bien? As-tu ramené ta fille à la maison?
    Bonne soirée.

    • I’m glad you’re able to use Lireka. It’s become my go to store for French titles although, I still like to support a few bouquinistes and independent bookstores when I’m in France, où heureusement je suis toujours! Ma fille a terminé son semestre hier. Elle a tellement apprécié tous ses cours mais a dû travailler comme jamais auparavant. Maintenant, elle aura 10 jours de plus pour flâner dans les rues, aller aux bars avec ses amis. Mon mari arrive demain et nous aussi resterons en France, partant avec notre fille.

      Bonne fin de week-end Brieuc.

      • TBH, I haven’t used it yet. Plan to do it after New Year’s. Avec calme et sérénité…
        Super. Vous allez être tous les trois à vous balader à Paris, encore qu’il doive faire un peu froid maintenant. (Well, warm vs. Ann Harbor)
        Bonne fin de séjour Carole…

  4. PS. I just opened my account with those guys. Exciting… Merci encore

  5. awesome list! Bonne année !

  6. Bonne année chère amie. I imagine you’re back home now?

  7. A great list! Memoirs of a Breton Peasant appeals to me. I was brought up on French lit mainly geared to youngsters, adventure and classics, but read relatively few modern novels, so I enjoyed your short review of Annie Ernaux’s Une femme. That is the author I wanted to try for some time now, but always keep putting her books off for some reason (her Nobel didn’t help in that respect).

    French graphic novels (as Belgian) are in the league of their own, aren’t they? It’s great to see Persepolis on your list. Jacques Tardi, Jacques Lob and Benoît Peeters are just a couple of names that come to mind too here. I also previous enjoyed Tian Veasna’s Year of the Rabbit (he lives in France).

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