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Pleasant enough but nothing memorable
on 23 April 2015
This is the account of an American woman who moves to Paris and marries her French boyfriend (who's not at all a stereotype - he's a tapdancing engineer with the unlikely name of Gwendal). It's about how she adapts to living in Paris and how she falls in love with the city and the cuisine. She ends every chapter with some of her favourite recipes, so it's part memoir, part travelogue, part recipe book.
Unfortunately Elizabeth just isn't as interesting as she thinks she is. There's too much about her - I love history! I grew up surrounded by women! I like eating! - and not enough objectively about the experience of moving to a new country. Parts of the book also felt like they had been taken verbatim from emails to her mother (eg "tonight when I came out of the Louvre I noticed them cleaning the windows").
Some of the most interesting parts for me were the way that she starts to find fault in so many aspects of the American culture. She pokes fun at American tourists and sneers at her mother for assuming that things will operate in Europe as they do in the US. Over my life I've lived in seven different countries, and it got me thinking about the way that I have adapted and assimilated. I was also interested in her views on the differences between American vs French attitudes, how what is quite acceptable in the US is seen as pushy in France and how Americans show their power by helping whereas the French show their power by blocking progress.
The integration of the recipes (more than 60) feels very natural given Elizabeth's obsession with food. (She's the kind of writer who describes walls as being the colour of butter or a sweater as being the colour of warm milk.) While I haven't tried any, for the most part they sound tasty and easy to follow. They are also listed in the index.
While I found the book okay, I got bored towards the end, because ultimately it doesn't go anywhere. It felt like Bard wrote it because she had nothing better to do with her time. There are better books that cover similar territory. Almost French: A New Life in Paris is one which I recommend, or if the foodie aspect is what appeals, try The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry.