Julia recounts her life story. She grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, with a mother, father, and younger sister, Charla. Even as a girl she was captivated by Paris, drawn to the city’s “paradoxes, its secrets, its surprises.” Shortly after graduating from Boston University, Julia moved to Paris to write for a fashion magazine. Not long thereafter she took a new job writing for TV, and moved into an apartment with two gay French men, Hervé and Christophe.
Julia’s backstory reveals that she has felt like an outsider in Paris for many years. It also shows that Julia is attracted to the idea of secrets, an aspect of her personality which will become more and more evident as she continues her research.
Julia has a dinner date with Hervé and Christophe, who are still roommates. (The novel is not clear about whether they are lovers.) Hervé notices that Julia doesn’t look herself and asks if she’s alright. Julia claims she is, though she privately admits that her research into the events of July 1942 “had awakened a vulnerability within her, triggered something deep, unspoken.”
For the first time, the reader begins to sense what an impact learning about the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup is having on Julia. Her knowledge is described as a physical burden, an image that will recur throughout the novel. Julia’s white lie to Hervé also shows how unwilling Julia is to discuss her personal issues, a pattern that will continue throughout the novel.