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- Published on Amazon.com
"What is the draw of France to Anglo-Saxons?" To answer this question, Alice Leccese Powers explores France through the works of thirty-three British and American writers. She has compiled as diverse a selection of writings as is possible to have on the same topic, proving that every traveler experiences France in a different way --- even novelist Tobias Smollet, who found more to complain about than to embrace.
The selections in FRANCE IN MIND range from the eighteenth century to the present, cover territory from Paris to the Pyrenees and include fiction, nonfiction, letters and poetry. Some of the pieces are familiar and worth re-reading in the context of this anthology --- excerpts from Ernest Hemingway's A MOVEABLE FEAST, F. Scott Fitzgerald's TENDER IS THE NIGHT and Joanne Harris' CHOCOLAT. Also collected here are essays from noted travel writers like Peter Mayle writing about social rituals in Provence, M.F.K. Fisher on dining in Marseilles and Paul Theroux on exploring Arles in Van Gogh footsteps.
It's the unexpected selections that make FRANCE IN MIND come alive --- writings from James Fenimore Cooper, Mary McCarthy and David Sedaris. One of the best selections in the anthology is an excerpt from Washington Irving's TALES OF A TRAVELER. Irving, closely identified with New York's Catskill Mountains, penned several volumes of travel writing that were popular in both Europe and America. Those who have read Irving's THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW will see familiar elements in "The Adventures of My Uncle," in which he spins a ghostly tale set in a chateau in Normandy.
The biographies that precede each selection provide interesting details on the authors' connections to France. Thomas Jefferson succeeded Benjamin Franklin as the U.S. Ambassador to France and arrived at his post with his two daughters and a slave, Sally Hemming. Gertrude Stein, most famous for the literary salons she hosted in her Paris apartment for the Lost Generation of expatriate writers, was of Jewish descent. She refused to leave Paris during World War II and, not only was she forced to sell some treasured paintings to survive, she narrowly escaped being sent to a concentration camp. Journalist Stanley Karnow first went to France as a U.S. Army soldier during World War II. He later returned on the G.I. bill, enrolled at the Sorbonne and stayed for many years working for the Paris bureau of Time magazine.
Edith Wharton, at first wary of Henry James because critics often compared their work, became great friends with James and joined him on a motoring tour of France. Both are represented in FRANCE IN MIND: Wharton with a selection from one of her lesser-known novels, THE REEF, on falling in love in Paris, James with an essay on the cathedral town of Rheims.
Whatever the time or place --- whether it's Adam Gopnik in PARIS TO THE MOON strategizing on how to convince a taxi driver to make a U-turn to take his pregnant wife to the hospital to give birth, David Sedaris earning a few laughs for his attempts at mastering the French language, Ezra Pound on a walking tour of Southern France, or even Thomas Jefferson penning a 1780 letter to James Madison --- each selection brings us ever closer to understanding the source of France's allure. "What is the draw of France to Anglo-Saxons? It is the romantic possibilities. The manners, the body language, the cuisine, the religion hold the promise of another life away from the ordinary."
--- Reviewed by Shannon McKenna