Monday, January 4, 2010

Almost French - Sarah Turnbull

Sarah Turnbull is a journalist from Australia who meets an enchanting French gentleman at a party. Shortly thereafter, he invites her to visit him in Paris...and eight years later, she's still there. Almost French is Turnbull's foray into French society, and her exploration of how much one can and should give up in the name of love. As Turnbull learns a new language and tries to fit in with her boyfriend Fred's seemingly snooty friends, she also struggles to find herself in a foreign land where she no longer understands how to dress, how to make small talk, or how to endure the painful struggle of trying to find a job. While I did not find anything particularly insightful or incredible about this book, I did find myself rooting for Turnbull in her magnifient efforts to assimilate. I would have liked to learn more about Fred - and better understand why he was worth all the trouble. He did seem implicitly supportive, but at the same time appeared to make no effort to put himself in Turnbull's shoes - to appreciate how much she had given up in terms of career, family, and day-to-day comfort in order to make their lives work together. Yet, at the same time, Turnbull never seemed to direct any of her frustrations at him - suggesting indeed that there is something quite amazing about their partnership. I really appreciated Turnbull's observations and assessments of French culture - her recognition of her own failures when she tried to impose her Australian sensibilities onto others, and the moments when her understanding of things finally clicked. I don't think I could ever survive in a foreign country without developing countless ulcers and generally feeling constantly on edge - worried about offending someone, and never feeling like I understood all the rules. Turnbull manages to come across as heroic, without presenting herself as a martyr or as smugly self-superior. She made me appreciate the ease of being at home, but at the same time long for travel and that feeling of moving a little beyond your comfort zone.

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