BREATHLESS by Nancy K. Miller


An American Girl in Paris
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A coming-of-age tale covering the author's 20s in Paris, where she studied, worked, lived on her own for the first time, fell in and out of love, and found solid ground beneath her feet.

Miller (English and Comparative Literature/Graduate Center, CUNY; What They Saved: Pieces of a Jewish Past, 2011, etc.) has previously mined her past in memoirs about herself and the lives of her parents. This book takes its name from the Godard film, which inspired the author, upon graduating from Barnard College in 1961, to move to Paris at 21. While studying at the Sorbonne, Miller sought freedom from her parents’ incessant meddling and attempted to swap her "nice-Jewish-girl" identity for a life of sophistication and romance. She writes of her transformation from wide-eyed naif ("I didn't set out to sleep with Philippe") to a confident, individualized woman capable of making her own decisions—about whom to date, where to live and work, and the direction of her future. Repeatedly, she revisits her perceived lack of self-understanding and the myriad experiences that informed her self-awareness and capacity to recognize and give voice to her own desires. Miller's first year in France truly represented a necessary break from the lifelong pressures of "les parents terribles,” and it was followed by more space after she received a Fulbright teaching fellowship, enabling her to stay longer. After a couple years, Miller met and eloped with an older American expat who ran a language school. The book's final half is dominated by the marriage's highs and lows, the latter of which contributed even more fully to Miller's break from controlling influences and resulted in her trusting her own judgment. Originally in search of salvation from her family, Miller found the external adventures she'd craved and painful ones she hadn't anticipated, and she went through a deeply personal transformation.

Articulate, keen and satisfying.

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-58005-488-1
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Seal Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2013


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