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'Paris Wife' explores Hemingway's life

Like living in a play
Paula McLain, the author of the best-seller "The Paris Wife" will be in Rochester Jan. 8.

Paris in the 1920s must have been a fascinating place, with American ex-pats discussing their latest novels over coffee at sidewalk cafes or trying to outdo each other at cocktail parties.

At least that's the popular notion, and it is attractive enough to help push Paula McLain's novel, "The Paris Wife," up the best-seller lists. The book is a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway's first marriage, and those years in Paris, as told by his wife, Hadley.

McLain, who lives in Cleveland, will be in Rochester to talk about her book at 2 p.m. Jan. 8 at the Rochester Public Library . Her previous books include the memoir "Growing Up in Other People's Houses" and the novel "Ticket to Ride."

The leap into historical fiction with "The Paris Wife" began, McLain has said, after reading "A Moveable Feast," the book Hemingway wrote many years later about his time in Paris. McLain then started reading Hadley's letters, as well as Hemingway biographies, to get a sense of the couple's relationship.

Hemingway and Hadley Richardson met in 1920 at a party in Chicago. They were married the next year and moved to Paris. They divorced in 1926.

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McLain said she did most of her research in libraries because, as a struggling writer, she could not afford to travel to Paris to visit the sites frequented by the Hemingways. After selling the book, she finally took a trip to France and Spain.

McLain was born in Fresno, Calif., but she and her two sisters were abandoned by their parents and moved from foster home to foster home. She discovered she liked to write, and earned an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan.

Currently, McLain is working on a book about Marie Curie, the Polish-French scientist who became the first person to be awarded two Nobel Prizes.

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