Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis were three American women who, in their youth, spent time studying and living in Paris. Based on extensive research in archives in the United States and France, Alice Kaplan examines the lasting effects of the women's experiences which formed a lifelong French connection for all three. Living in France would sustain, nourish, and confirm a sense of independence and uniqueness in each of their lives. All three were outsiders within their social milieus in the United States.
As a Catholic with divorced parents in the 1950s, Jacqueline Bouvier was politely ostracized. As a rich socialite she was expected not to be looking for a career but a husband. She hid her insatiable curiosity for all types of knowledge, a voracious reading habit, plus a shrewdly discerning eye in assessing others. Her student year in France validated these personal attributes. The last ten years of her life allowed her fully to utilize these assets as a successful book editor.
During the 1950s Susan Sontag was a closet intellectual and lesbian when neither was socially acceptable. She left her husband and child for the freedom of intellectual pursuits in France. She arrived there during the time of burgeoning political turmoil as Algerians were seeking independence from France. The explorations of French literary works and of her own personal life created the foundation for her future work as an intellectual, critic, and novelist. Sontag is buried in France.
Angela Davis was a political activist, a member of the American Communist Party, writer, and always a teacher and professor. Her more radical beliefs led to her being imprisoned, charged and later acquitted of serious criminal offenses in the United States. Growing up in the 1960s in Birmingham, Alabama, as an African-American she was an outsider because of racism. Her year abroad in France, as the only African-American in her student group, gave her the personal insight as to how Algerians and other immigrants from France's colonies reacted to unfair political and social treatment. Her intense studies formed the basis for Davis's changing political and social viewpoints.
For her research on all three women, Kaplan had access to many resources not previously available. However, there are numerous resources that are yet to be made available about Kennedy and Sontag. For Davis, who is still alive and active, it was the interpretation of existing material about a woman who was, and for many still is, very controversial. Kaplan had access to the French National Library which contains television and radio interviews in French with Jacqueline Kennedy, Susan Sontag and Angela Davis.