Review of ‘We’ll Always Have Paris’ (2014) by Jennifer Coburn

by Katie Heid

As summer winds down in Michigan, many people are trying to squeeze in that last-minute vacation.

How does a trip to Europe sound? This is as easy as picking up Jennifer Coburn’s charming memoir We’ll Always Have Paris.

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This book is a delightful romp through Europe’s most beloved cities. During an eight year span, Coburn invites the reader on the adventures shared with her daughter, Katie, who is just in grade school at the start of the book.  This mother-daughter team sets off to France, England, Italy, Spain, and The Netherlands. As amazing as three separate European vacations should be, these aren’t ordinary mother-daughter trips. Coburn’s sense of adventure – and purpose –  is fueled by her father’s early death. He succumbed to lung cancer at age 49, when Coburn was just a young college student; his passing left her with the ominous sense that young death was imminent for her too. As Coburn writes, “Since my father’s death…I’ve been checking my rear-view mirror to see if the Grim Reaper is tailgating.”

One gets the impression that Coburn never really stops looking over her shoulder. But these trips do allow her to look forward, albeit briefly. She’s intentional about every detail of her travel plans, hoping to pass on the spirit of joi de virve to her daughter.

The book starts out with Coburn and her then 8-year-old daughter adventuring through Paris. They take in the typical Parisian sites like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. They also wander off the beaten path to quaint spots, like the Shakespeare & Company Booksellers. There, Katie (excitedly) and Coburn (reluctantly) spend the night in the same spot where famous authors once shared the same digs.

Their globetrotting is also met with interesting surprises. Meeting a movie star on a train? Check. Donning a fake European accent to get discounts? Absolutely. Amusing exchanges between Coburn and the locals? Certainly! One of the best parts of this book is that Coburn invites you on the trip with her.  In fact, visiting Paris is one of my dreams (my nine-year-old son is convinced we need to take a trip there together, although I must admit just getting a child to Europe would be an adventure in itself!). Until then, Coburn’s writing makes me feel like I’ve already been there. For those who have already been to Europe, her descriptions of various cities, experiences, and attractions will make you nostalgic. And even the most straight-laced reader will enjoy her time in Amsterdam where just about anything goes.

Another reason readers will enjoy We’ll Always Have Paris centers around the poignant, and often humorous exchanges, between mother and daughter. There’s the added bonus when Coburn weaves stories about her father in between her European adventures. They help provide the background as to why the author is so emphatic about these treks with her daughter.

Throughout their travels, Coburn never loses sight of what is truly important. She loves her daughter and would rather do an entire lifetime of living in just a few years than look back with decades of regret. We’ll Always Have Paris does not disappoint. It will satisfy your longing for that European vacation just long enough until you can hop a plane and see it for yourself.

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