Has getting a Kindle for Christmas reawakened your love of reading? Would you like a fun way to prepare for your trip to France? Maybe you’d just like a Calgon moment – and be taken away to the land of wine and cheese.
No matter the reason, these books should be on your 2011 reading list of all things French. I’ve mostly stayed away from novels set in Paris; these are to inspire you to travel far and wide from the City of Light (well, as far as you can in a country the size of Texas).
Descriptions are paraphrased from Amazon. There’s something for everyone, I hope – and if I’ve missed your favorite, let me know in the comments!
Non-Fiction and Novels Set in France
Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris
Framboise Dartigen spent her childhood in a Nazi-occupied French village with her widowed mother and siblings. Knowing that the scent of oranges brought on her mother’s severe migraines, Framboise was clever enough or devious enough to hoard orange peel for her own advantage. During their unsupervised play, the children met a young Nazi soldier and were captivated by his charm and the black-market gifts that he gave them. Years later, Framboise, now a widow herself, returns to the village on a quest for the truth about her family’s role in a tragic event for which her mother bore the blame and was forced by the townspeople to flee. Framboise inherited her mother’s journal, and soon learns that the past and the present are intertwined. From the author of the wildly famous Chocolat.
A Goose in Toulouse: and Other Culinary Adventures in France by Mort Rosenbaum
Rosenblum paints a vivid picture of modern France and her problems moderne, but his emphasis is always on the food. He leads the readers through all the regions known to most Americans only as proper nounsDChablis, Roquefort, BurgundyDand to little villages whose names don’t register at all. An entire chapter is devoted to “Bruno the Truffle King,” and another cheese connoisseurs and old-time calvados makers. Full of odd anecdotes about France, its food, cultures and inhabitants.
The Matchmaker of Perigord by Julia Stuart
Unhappy cutting hair, Guillaume, the barber of the tiny, declining French town of Amour-sur-Belle, renames his shop Heart’s Desire and tries his hand at matchmaking, even though he lost his first love, Emilie, years ago. Guillaume soon proves hopeless: he can’t even help his best friend, Yves Leveque, whose heartaches have actually caused him indigestion. When Emilie returns to Amour-sur-Belle a rich divorcée, and sets about restoring a dilapidated old chateau that once brought tourists to the city, she enlivens the slumping town’s eligible suitors and the town wags who watch their every move.
Perfume by Patrick Suskind
This creepy story is about Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a man who was born with an extraordinary sense of smell, but no personal odor. Sounds innocent enough, right? His gift/curse leads him to Grasse, the perfume capital of the world in southeast France, where he finds a horrifying way to capture the ultimate scent.
Instructions for Visitors: Life and Love in a French Town by Helen Stevenson
With emotional depth and lyrical sensitivity, Stevenson introduces readers to the myriad residents of the quaint hamlet known only as “le village.” There’s Stefan, the Maoist tennis buff, who has his own unique way of showing empathy for the masses; Gigi, the chic Parisian who uses her boutique to dress her ex-lovers’ girlfriends; and Luc, the cowboy painter and part-time dentist, who, overcoming his aversion to blondes, becomes enamored of the Englishwoman who has been warmly embraced by the rural community. But her troubled love affair with this local lothario comes to represent the poignant truth: she is still, somehow, an outsider. Luc reminds her: “Le village, c’est moi,” and she can never say the same.
France, A Love Story: Women Write About the French Experience by Camille Cusumano
In this beautiful collection, two dozen women describe the country they love and why they fell under its spell. Women explore their firsthand experiences with the people, landscape, flavors, history, art, culture, and character of this enchanted land. Featuring a delightful mix of perspectives-from M.F.K. Fisher’s first days in Dijon and Janet Flanner’s account of post-War Paris to the contemporary prose of Amanda Hesser-this book is sure to strike a chord with Francophiles everywhere.
Two Towns in Provence by M.F.K. Fisher
The “two towns” were orginally published as “Map of Another Town” and “A Considerable Town”. The first book is about Aix-en-Provence founded more than two thousand years ago by Roman invaders; “A Considerable Town” is about Marseille in the 1950′s.
A French Affair: The Paris Beat 1965-1998 by Mary Blume
(OK, I added a Paris one – but seriously, how awesome does this sound?) Even the most dedicated expat rarely manages to completely fit into an adopted foreign culture. It’s precisely this quality that allows American Mary Blume to so thoughtfully observe and record Paris, the city that’s served as her home for over three decades, though its ways may still mystify her. In A French Affair–a collection of essays published in the International Herald Tribune–the columnist deftly captures the quirks and changes that are visible only to those who live in France, though they may be most interesting to those who don’t.
Celestine: Voices from a French Village by Gillian Tindall
In a deserted house near her own in the French village of Chassignolles, Tindall found four carefully preserved old letters, each from a different man, proposing marriage to 19-year-old Celestine Chaumette, the long-deceased grandmother of the last resident of the house. The young woman had accepted none of these suitors. Her curiosity piqued, British historian/novelist/biographer Tindall, who has been a householder and part-time resident of the community for 20-odd years, set out to discover more about Celestine. She queried neighbors and relatives, explored the local cemeteries and pored over musty 19th-century archives. But the search for Celestine led her to a many-layered study of nearly a century of agrarian life in the region of Berry, in central France near Nohant, where George Sand lived and wrote.