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France - BOOKS Expat memoirs about living in France

Pauline

Forums Admin
#1
There are a lot of US and UK expats living in France, and many have written memoirs. Doing this is easier than ever now with publishing for the Kindle. This trend has been around for a long time, but for me the two big "expat living in ---" books were A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle and Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes.

I like to go on Amazon and download samples of these, usually self-published, memoirs. Based on the sample I decide whether or not to purchase. Here is my list of the ones for France that I liked, didn't like and rejected from reading the sample. Please add your comments.

I differentiate self-published, or published with a small press, from traditionally published books because the latter are usually better. They had professional editors, proof readers, book designers. It is not always the case that self-published books are worse, but it is frequently the case IMO. On the other hand, a good self-published book can be brilliant.

RECOMMENDED
These books went through traditional publishers.

Paris to the Pyrenees: A Skeptic Pilgrim Walks the Way of St James by David Downie. I loved this book. Downie is an American expat living in Paris. He and his wife walk the French part of the Pilgrims walk that ends up in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. There are many branches of this walk through France - called the St James Way. They start in France and walk to Burgundy, then to the border with Spain. Oddly, the detailed part of the book ends in Burgundy where a health and life crisis make them stop. They finish the walk and he writes about it but briefly. I wish there was more about the second part of the walk, but I loved the book anyway.

The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz. Even though I am not interested in the dessert recipes I enjoyed reading about life in Paris.

A Castle in the Backyard: The Dream of a House in by Betsy Draine. This was published in 2002. An American couple buy a house in Castelnaud in the Dordogne and for 15 years spend their summers there. An interesting description of what happens as this cute town turns into a major and over-crowded tourist attraction. We visited Castelnaud last year and found their house - and the town was overrun and not really fun to visit.

On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town by Susan Hermann Loomis. Published in 2002 and I can't remember the details, but I enjoyed reading it. Set in Louviers in Normandy.

My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme. A very good book about living in France in the 50s and 60s.

I'll Never Be French (no matter what I do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany by Mark Greenside (Kindle version available), 2008. See comments in post below.

Ten Trees and a Truffle Dog: Sniffing Out the Perfect Plot in Provence by Jamie Ivey. This is the fourth of a series based on the adventures of Ivey and his wife in Provence. Actually my favorite was Rosé En Marché: Running a Market Stall in Provence, since it had so much about the ins and outs of markets in Provence. You may have trouble finding these in the US. Recommended by @Roz .

Lunch in Paris and Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard. An American marries and French man and settles in Paris (the first book), then have a baby and move to a village in Provence (Cereste, east of Apt). Well written and interesting. Recipes included.

RECOMMENDED SELF-PUBLISHED MEMOIRS ABOUT LIFE IN FRANCE

French Soup by Sam Dent. I loved this book. From my Amazon review: "A British couple with young children quit their jobs and move to rural France to run a gite (vacation rental). The book is written by the woman and reads like a personal diary. Their experience was not easy and she tells the story from her viewpoint. I felt it was an honest and detailed look at the realities of their chosen life, good and bad. ... "

Tout Sweet: Hanging Up my High Heels for a New Life in France by Karen Wheeler. The first book is charming and entertaining, but I hated myself for reading the next two in the series. They are dreadful! A single woman in her mid 30s from London gives up the glamorous life and moves to a village in rural France. Only read it if you promise yourself you will not buy the next two in the series.

A Summer in Gascony: The Other Side of France by Martin Calder. A British student spends a summer working on a farm in Gascony. I read this before we spent a week in Gascony and enjoyed it.

NOT RECOMMENDED

Bon Courage: Rediscovering the Art of Living (in the heart of France) by Ken McAdams. From my Amazon review; "There is a lot to like about this book and I am torn about how to review it. I enjoyed the story of Ken and Bing visiting France for an extended stay and then buying and renovating a village house, but I would have liked to learn more about the area and their life there. The book starts off well, introducing us to the town and the area, telling us about his view of life in France, giving us the details about the purchase of the house, but it turns into a story more about their relationship than about life in France. I guess this is the "rediscovering the art of living" part. It hints at a final event to come about the book he is writing, but this is not resolved, which I found annoying. ... "

Tout Allure and Tout Soul, books 2 and 3 from Karen Wheeler. Really, don't read these! Her interesting first book talking about living in a village turns into a pursuit of romance and sex in book 2 and in book 3 a highly unlikely story of falling in love and then being dumped by a Portuguese construction worker and then - spoiler alert!! - he is in a bad crash and dies slowly and even though they only had a brief affair and it was long over, she is with him in the hospital reliving their time together. I didn't write a review for Amazon but I should have.

Courage and Croissants, Inspiring Joyful Living by Jean P Roux and Suzanne Saxe-Roue. ??? It is on my Kindle but I can't remember it and maybe I didn't read it. Oh wait - I remember it!! This couple tell you in detail how to give up your type A life in the US and move to France and make it work, but part way through they stop explaining how they managed it financially and you realize they sold their multi-million dollar home in California and bought a vineyard in the Languedoc. Then they include a worksheet so you can do the same (assuming you have that house!). Not recommended. One of the reviewers said this but I ignored that review when I should have listened.

REJECTED FROM READING THE SAMPLE

Blossoming in Provence by Kristin Espinasse.
The French House by Nick Alexander.
An Acre of the Dordogne by Ian Burgess.

And several others but I lost track.

What should I read next about living in France?
 
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Heidi

100+ Posts
#2
This is perfect, Pauline! I'm looking for reading material for my travels to Paris in May. I loved The Sweet Life in Paris and I follow his blog. My Life in France was great!

This is a bit different ~ a history, really ~ but I've downloaded David McCullough's The Greater Journey chronicling the adventures of Americans who visited or settled in Paris between 1830 - 1900. It's a phenomenon that has always fascinated me. Can't wait to get into this book.

A friend just gave me Paris in Love: A Memoir that gets good reviews. The cover & title make it sound "fluffy" but the author, Eloisa James, is a Shakespeare professor who moves her Italian husband and two (preteen/teenager) children to Paris with mixed results. It's reviewed as "poignant, charming, exhilarating and enchanting... " We'll see! I don't mind a little "delightful" light read......
 

Chris

100+ Posts
#3
My favorites: every single word ever written by MFK Fisher, Julia Child's "My Life in France," Adam Gopnik's "Paris to the Moon," "Adventures on the Wine Route" by Kermit Lynch, although he's not really an expat. Others I enjoyed include "From Here You Can't See Paris," by Michael S. Sanders, "The Cook and the Gardener" by Amanda Hesser, "We've Always Had Paris and Provence" by Patricia Wells. I'm sure there are more.
 
#5
Try Ann Barry's At Home in France. A former travel writer for the New York Times, Barry bought a house in Carennac, in the Lot, that she used for vacations, and she writes openly and disarmingly about her time there and the people she met and came to rely on as friends. The book isn't full of quirky people and clever, ironic remarks like Mayle's early books, but in some ways I found it more appealing, precisely because it so reflects the writer and is more deeply personal.

Unforrtunately, Barry died sometime in the mid-1990s, at a young age (at least from where I sit), so she didn't get to use the house for as many years as she hoped.
 
#6
I really loved "My Life in France." Shannon has the cute photo below on her refrigerator. :)

JuliaandPaulValentine.PNG


Not memoirs, but two books you might like are "Luminous Debris" by Gustaf Sobin and "The Road from the Past" by Ina Caro. I've only dipped into each briefly, but now that I'm reminded of them maybe I'll pull them off the shelf and explore more!
 
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#9
Another one I liked, which isn't really a memoir but provides good insight into French life, is "Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong", by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow.
 

Roz

500+ Posts
#10
Here are a few books in that genre I've enjoyed recently:

I'll Never Be French, No Matter What I Do -- about Brittany

Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris by Ann Mah
Bringing up bébé : one American mother discovers the wisdom of French parenting. Even for someone who isn't raising kids, I thought that book was very interesting for what it said about cultural values in France. A similar one was French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters.

But I get most of the books I read from the library. I don't know that I would have actually paid around $10 for each of those as a ebook. Most of the Kindle books I buy are the ones that show up as special deals, and I usually just stumble on those when browsing. I wish there were an easier way to find those. The Kindle deals of the day are usually drek.

Here is one I just happened to see that looks pretty good, for $4.99:
Cherries from Chauvet's Orchard: A memoir of Provence. It has great reviews, although you can't always depend on that of course. But one of the raves was from Rachel Joyce, whose book, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, I loved.

Also, not a book, but I just came across this interesting series of recent articles on Slate about living in Paris: Dispatches from the Welfare State.
 

Roz

500+ Posts
#11
P.S. I should have mentioned above that one way to get older books cheaply is to buy the used print version. For example, that book "I'll Never Be French..." is available used for 1 cent on Amazon. With $3.99 shipping, it still costs only $4.00. I get quite a few books that way when I can't find them in the library.

Of course, I don't know if that option is available outside the US. Can you get something similar on Amazon UK, Pauline?
 
#15
Yes, Roz, plenty of used books on Amazon.co.uk at 1p - I buy quite a few that way if the Kindle price is more than I want to pay.

Thanks for the Sedaris link, Parigi - one of my favourite writers. I'm in a hotel lounge at the moment, so I'll open it up later this evening!
 

Dana

100+ Posts
#16
My all time favourite expat memoire is Dorothy Carrington's Granite Island, about Corsica. But one that made us giggle the most is (I think) the original expat happy book, Perfume from Provence, written in 1935 by Lady Winifred Fortescue. Oh the servant problems on the Riviera back then! Another era...
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
#19
I just finished this book and really enjoyed it:

I'll Never Be French (no matter what I do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany
by Mark Greenside (Kindle version available), 2008

The author spend a summer in Brittany in 1991 with a girlfriend in the early 90s, in a town on the west coast of Brittany, in the Finistere region. He makes up the town names in the book (Plobien), but it is probably one of the towns on the coast above Brest - many start with "Plo". They spend the summer, fall out of love with each other, but he ends up buying an inexpensive house in the town and returning every summer.

It opens with a description of the house the girlfriend had found for them to rent for the summer. This was before the internet, back when it was really hard for Americans to find a house to rent in Europe. They arrive and have to spend their first week cleaning every inch of the house. (We rented a farmhouse in Pennsylvania for a year via an add in the NY Times in 1990 and had a similar experience. I can still see the dirt and disorganization clearly. But, enough about me :) ).

There is one chapter too many about renovating his house (but really it is pretty interesting), but overall I really enjoyed his story and his writing, and appreciated the comments he had about the differences between his life in France and his life in the US (college professor and writer from NYC, but living in California).
 
#20
Here are a few more: Lunch in Paris, Elizabeth Baird, Provence 1970 by Luke Barr, about a chance meeting of Julia Child, James Beard, MK Fisher and Richard Olney one Christmas in Provence & of course My Life in Paris, Julia Child, Paris My Sweet by Amy Thomas, who lands a year job in Paris working on the Louis Vuitton advertising account, C'est La Vie, by the late Suzy Gershman, chronicles of her move to Paris, fulfilling a dream, Hot Sun, Cool Shadow by Angela Murrills, another story about moving and buying a house in the Dordogne.

Here is a delightful book about Pere Lachaise cemetery. Although not by an expat the story pokes fun at the pre-imminent inhabitants, through feline characters. You will know doubt recognize all the principals. I used this as a book club selection and provided each member with a picture of a cat named for each "famous person" and had them dress the part when it came to review the book resulting in a very very entertaining get together. Some of the meows were quite unique. Whiskas treats were available for those who were totally in character. Book title - Waiting for Gertrude by Bill Bryson


Just a sampling........just can't get enough of this stuff. Have read most of the ones above. Fortunately I have a library nearby, as I just don't have the space for all of these.
 

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