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Paris to the Moon [Paperback]

Adam Gopnik
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sep 2001
Paris. The name alone conjures images of chestnut-lined boulevards, sidewalk cafés, breathtaking façades around every corner--in short, an exquisite romanticism that has captured the American imagination for as long as there have been Americans.

In 1995, Adam Gopnik, his wife, and their infant son left the familiar comforts and hassles of New York City for the urbane glamour of the City of Light. Gopnik is a longtime New Yorker writer, and the magazine has sent its writers to Paris for decades--but his was above all a personal pilgrimage to the place that had for so long been the undisputed capital of everything cultural and beautiful. It was also the opportunity to raise a child who would know what it was to romp in the Luxembourg Gardens, to enjoy a croque monsieur in a Left Bank café--a child (and perhaps a father, too) who would have a grasp of that Parisian sense of style we Americans find so elusive.

So, in the grand tradition of the American abroad, Gopnik walked the paths of the Tuileries, enjoyed philosophical discussions at his local bistro, wrote as violet twilight fell on the arrondissements. Of course, as readers of Gopnik's beloved and award-winning "Paris Journals" in The New Yorker know, there was also the matter of raising a child and carrying on with day-to-day, not-so-fabled life. Evenings with French intellectuals preceded middle-of-the-night baby feedings; afternoons were filled with trips to the Musée d'Orsay and pinball games; weekday leftovers were eaten while three-star chefs debated a "culinary crisis."

As Gopnik describes in this funny and tender book, the dual processes of navigating a foreign city and becoming a parent are not completely dissimilar journeys--both hold new routines, new languages, a new set of rules by which everyday life is lived. With singular wit and insight, Gopnik weaves the magical with the mundane in a wholly delightful, often hilarious look at what it was to be an American family man in Paris at the end of the twentieth century. "We went to Paris for a sentimental reeducation-I did anyway-even though the sentiments we were instructed in were not the ones we were expecting to learn, which I believe is why they call it an education."

Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade; Reprint edition (Sep 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375758232
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375758232
  • Product Dimensions: 20.2 x 13.5 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 686,456 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Commissioned by The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik spent five years in Paris with his wife, Martha and son, Luke, writing dispatches now collected here along with previously unpublished journal entries in Paris to the Moon.

A self-described "comic-sentimental essayist", Gopnik chose the romance of Paris in its particulars as his subject. Gopnik falls in unabashed love with what he calls Paris's commonplace civilisation--the cafés, the little shops, the ancient carousel in the park and the small, intricate experiences that happen in such settings. But Paris can also be a difficult city to love, particularly its pompous and abstract official culture with its parallel paper universe. The tension between these two sides of Paris and the country's general brooding over the decline of French dominance in the face of globalisation (haute couture, cooking and sex, as well as the economy, are running deficits) form the subtexts for these finely wrought and witty essays.

With his emphasis on the micro in the macro, Gopnik describes trying to get a Thanksgiving turkey delivered during a general strike and his struggle to find an apartment during a government scandal over favouritism in housing allocations. The essays alternate between reports of national and local events and accounts of expatriate family life, with an emphasis on "the trinity of late-century bourgeois obsessions: children and cooking and spectator sports, including the spectator sport of shopping." Gopnik describes some truly delicious moments, from the rites of Parisian haute couture, to the "occupation" of a local brasserie in protest of its purchase by a restaurant tycoon, to the birth of his daughter with the aid of a doctor in black jeans and a black silk shirt, open at the front. Gopnik makes terrific use of his status as an observer on the fringes of fashionable society to draw some deft comparisons between Paris and New York ("It is as if all American appliances dreamed of being cars while all French appliances dreamed of being telephones") and do some incisive philosophising on the nature of both. This is masterful reportage with a winning infusion of intelligence, intimacy and charm. --Lesley Reed --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


The finest book on France in recent years - Alain de Botton, New York Times Book Review

A conscientious, scrupulously savvy American husband and father meets contemporary France, and fireworks result, lighting up not just the Eiffel Tower - John Updike --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Not long after we moved to Paris, in the fall of 1995, my wife, Martha, and I saw, in the window of a shop on the rue Saint-Sulpice, a nineteenth-century engraving, done in the manner, though I'm now inclined to think not from the hand, of Daumier. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Approach with caution 27 Aug 2009
Having lived and worked on the outskirts of Paris I was eager to read Adam Gopnik's account of his five years in the French capital. Alas the light - hearted, impartial read I was hoping for soon disappeared into page after page of heavyweight literary philosophy, which is what this book is.

Gopnik is undoubtedly an intellectual, a highly educated writer who is much respected within his own circle. He analyses Paris to a philosophical depth which at times sounds pompous and just plain arrogant. Gopnik seems to look down on Paris and its inhabitants, and his frequent biased comparisons to his native New York become tedious. The reader could be forgiven for wondering why he opted to live there at all.

If name - dropping were an Olympic sport, Gopnik would send America to the top of the medal table. He seems keen to flex his intellectual muscle with references to writers, journalists and philosophers who most of normal are unlikely to have heard of. For mere mortals who do not mingle in high brow literary circles (eg most of us) this makes the book baffling in places.

This book's one saving grace is that there are some sections of information: dubious dealings of French politicians, high - profile trials of former war criminals and the famous Paris fashion scene.

That said, this book is best suited to literary luncheons and does not fall in the category of "read for pleasure". This is the first of Adam Gopnik's books that I have read, and it will probably be the last.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you love Paris, then this is for you. 18 Nov 2003
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a charming book, a collection on wonderful pieces on one of the world's favourite cities from an American journalist based in the city.
Paris to the Moon ranges right across the full scope of Parisian life. There's no real reason to say much more than this. If Paris is a city that you hold any affection for then read this book.
Throughly enjoyable.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Comparisons Hurt 30 Nov 2002
The title, Paris to the Moon, derives, as the author points out, from a book by Jules Verne (From the Earth to the Moon [1865]). It may also conjure up, as it did in my mind, George Melies silent masterpiece, "Le Voyage Dans La Lune (1902), with its unforgettable image of the man in the moon wincing as the rocket hits him square in the right eye. Unfortunately, this is only one of many of Gopnik's rather forced allusions, and for the most part, his prose doesn't quite measure up to his aspirations. His attempts at coming across as a reverse-crossing Alexis De Toqueville never acquire the necessary intellectual weight to be taken seriously. This leaves him in Peter Mayle territory, the French capital equivalent of the Provencal ex-pat, wending his way somewhat comically through the trials and tribulations of Gallic bureaucracy, with large dollops of cultural commentary along the way. Here again, however, the comparisons do not lend themselves favorably to Gopnik. Mayle is much better at this sort of thing. For one thing, Gopnik's anecdotes are far less amusing than Mayle's. Whereas Mayle's vignettes capture perfectly the charming idiosyncrasies of his Provencal neighbors, Gopnik's come across as recherche, almost contrived. Again like Mayle (who must at the least, have been in the back of Gopnik's mind as a model for this sort of writing), Gopnik frequently digresses in his story to discuss cultural and particularly political variants in Parisian society. Yet whereas Mayle might take off on a tangent that actually leads to some new insight into "the French character," Gopnik provides no real revelation or compelling portrait. We just get his less than insightful musings in too many instances. Read more ›
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4.0 out of 5 stars good book 23 Jan 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
found this recommended in another book and its better than the one i was reading - clever and insightful - thankyou
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4.0 out of 5 stars American wry 9 Feb 2013
'There is no Regulon in the Semiosphere.' It's not Star Trek or Hitchhiker's Guide, it's France - and actually both a serious and a whimsical notion as refracted through the lens Gopnikian. One of those books that's attracted the full spectrum of response, both here and stateside (see It's easy to feel slightly envious of this debonaire American correspondent in Paris (which he knew as a child) and, appearing in British paperback eight years after its original publication, his political and economic observations cannot but feel somewhat dated, but I soon warmed to him; read #5 (on exercise and the French) and I think you will too. Though teetering on the edge of the precious (I didn't quite see how subtitles could occlude themselves, top of p100) these dispatches avoid cliché; they are witty and acute. I can see why Americans who cannot just 'pop over' would warm to this embedded, mildly exasperated account. Try Winter Journal #1 & 2. And I've never before seen someone put the boot into the Musée d'Orsay (p102); way to go! Privileged though he may be, he's engaging with it - and at least we can get to share
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Overwritten but a good insight into Paris 5 Aug 2003
"It was one of those dog days when even the fan attached precariously to ceiling has trouble cutting through the sultry Paris air. The blades making a whomp, whomp, whomp sound like a 'copter in the 'nam rain forest. Lazily I pick up l'Express and flick through to the book reviews..."
And that, precisely is what is wrong with this book. As a collection of essays it would probably work quite well but has a book it is over written. Of course the rave reviews in l'Express probably have something to do with Gopniks friendship with Christine Ockrent, the Express editor.
That said, I think Gopnik scores over similar books such as Peter Mayle's << A Year in Provence >> because he was actually meeting real working French people... although his circle of friends were largely the litterati they obviously gave Gopnik the edge on understanding what makes France, and the French tick. Mayle, on the other hand, comes over as an English colonist, lording it up over the natives and never really integrating. If you want some very amusing anecdotes that will reinforce your stereotypes read <<A Year in Provence>>, if you want to learn something about Paris life Gopnik is your man. For that I will give him 4 stars.
It is interesting that Mayle isn't really welcome in the Luberon while Gopnik's French colleagues obviously miss him greatly.
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