Ellen Sussman Talks About French Lessons

Author Ellen Sussman captures the sights and sounds of Paris with her new mainstream novel. Today the author shares how she became intimate with the city’s culture and how her experiences abroad inspired her to create the three interwoven stories about Americans in the City of Lights, this month’s French Lessons.

Three amazing things happened around my thirtieth birthday — I published my first story in a major magazine, I found out I was pregnant, and my husband got a job in Paris. Now, that’s a trifecta in life! A year later, we moved to Paris with a baby – and her sister already growing in my belly. I had always wanted to live in Paris — but at this time in my life?

Most people thought I was nuts. A move to a foreign country with a baby and a half? That’s no time to play tourist! And they were right — that was no time to play tourist. Instead it threw me into real life in Paris — the life of doctors and playgrounds and pre-school. I walked to the daily market with one in the stroller and the other in a Snugli on my chest. I learned French in a real hurry — that was the language of the nurses telling me to PUSH, the language of my daughters’ new friends, the language on the jungle gym. In five years of living in Paris I never went to the top of the Eiffel Tower or on the Bateau Mouche. But I learned my city inside out. I loved my city.

I didn’t write about Paris until many years later. On a trip back to Paris one summer, I bought my new husband a gift of a week of French lessons with a tutor. I was busy teaching that week and it was our anniversary. It turned out the tutor was good at her job — and gorgeous! I had bought my husband a beautiful young French woman as an anniversary gift! By the end of the week, our marriage was just fine, and I had an idea for a novel. I wanted to write about that man who might have been tempted by a lovely young woman, even though he’s in a happy marriage. But I had so much more to say about Paris! And so I created three Americans, all of them walking the streets of Paris with French tutors, learning about love and loss. 

I wrote about my Paris. I have never had more fun writing a novel. I could fill the pages with my memories of that remarkable city. I could live there again, through the experiences of my characters. We all had a marvelous time.

- Ellen Sussman

You can pick up your own copy of French Lessons in stores now!