Sunday, December 6, 2015

French Bingo Card

Emma at Words and Peace has set out a French Bingo 2015 Reading Challenge

I decided to give it a try. I probably won't manage a blackout, but I should be able to do more than five squares.

I didn't manage a Bingo,  or maybe I did --if I shuffle these around, but since I didn't review a lot of them I won't claim a bingo. Perhaps someone will get some ideas for next time.


Eligible BINGOS: 5 spaces in a row: horizontally, vertically, diagonally or "Four Corner” (each of the four corners plus 1 more space, any space you wish. Extra entries for any squares beyond  the first Bingo.

Just for fun and reference:
French Idioms and Proverbs by Vinchelés de Payen-Payne

A1 A  Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War, and a Ruined House in France by Miranda Richmond Mouillot 

A3 The Nightingale; Hannah, Kristin

A5 several of these, but the ended up on other squares

Liberty's Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty by Elizabeth Mitchell
A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable My Review
B4 Self-Portrait in Green by Marie NDiaye (or A5) Originally publ in French in 2005, trans publ in 2014 My Review

C1 All Our Worldly Goods; by Irène Némirovsky
Written during WW2, published in French in 1947, and in English translation in 2008.
The Dream Lover: A Novel of George Sand; Berg, Elizabeth

Dimanche and Other Stories; by Irène Némirovsky, Bridget Patterson (Translator)  
D2 The Normandy diary of Marie-Louise Osmont. 1940-1944 by Marie-Louise Osmont, My review
Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas by Patrick Modiano  My review
D5 A Palace in the Old Village by Tahar Ben Jelloun, a Moroccan/French writer. (translated from the French by Linda Coverdale) not exactly what we usually think of when we talk about the "ex-pat" life, but I think Mohammed's experiences qualify. My brief review.
Flambé in Armagnac (Winemaker Detective Mysteries #7) ; Alaux, Jean-Pierre, Balen, Noël; Sally Pane (Translation)
E2 Guys Like Me; by Dominique Fabre, Howard Curtis (Translation) (this could go in B2, C3) My notes on my page: November (second half) 2015 Reading
E3 The Oysters of Locmariaquer by Eleanor Clark (could also be B1, D2)
The Red Notebook; Laurain, Antoine; Jane Aitken (Translation), Emily Boyce (Translation) Published April 7th 2015 by Gallic Books (first published March 5th 2014) 

This is kind of flaky but here it is for what it's worth.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable

A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2014
378 pages
I received a free copy of the finished book through a blog win at France Book Tours

Often when I read these two story line novels, especially ones containing a story from the past entwined with a contemporary story, I find one story gets in the way of the other and I get confused in the muddle. If you can decipher the proceeding sentence then maybe you have a chance with this book.

It is not that I didn't like either story. I found both interesting. The contemporary story concerned April Vogt, a furniture expert assigned to assess the value of objects found in a "time capsule"--a Paris apartment locked up and untouched since the 1940s. April has some problems, including a difficult marriage, which complicate an extended stay in Paris.

The historic story involves Marthe de Florian a courtesan of  Belle Époque Paris, who owned the contents of the apartment. A fascinating woman who had several lovers and admirers including the painter Giovanni Boldini. Gable's book presents a fictionalized account of Marthe as recorded in a series of diary entries. How much of this story is based on fact and how much on the author's imagination is unclear, but it really doesn't matter. It's a good story and it introduces a lot of interesting characters some of which are historical persons. (This stimulated a lot of fun Googling on my part.)

My problem was the way the two stories were connected. The presentation of April's reading of the diary entries at times seems out of sequence and choppy.  At times I felt that it would have been better as two completely separate novels. I had to read the last few chapters a couple of times to make sure I got the story straight.

But it was a fun read. In the modern story the Frenchman Luc's stereotypical attitudes about Americans will amuse Americans, especially ones who have traveled or lived abroad.

I'll include a couple of links from my web exploring, but not most of my Google results because doing so would spoil the fun of Googling these things yourself.

The author has some background information on her web site

For some pictures of the actual apartment see 1942 ‘Time Capsule’ Apartment Discovered In Paris

If you are curious about the genetic test for Alzheimer's Disease mentioned in the modern part of this story the the following fact sheet from the National Institute on Aging: Alzheimer's Disease Genetics Fact Sheet

Square B3 on the French Bingo card.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Normandy diary of Marie-Louise Osmont. 1940-1944

The Normandy diary of Marie-Louise Osmont. 1940-1944 by Marie-Louise Osmont; Introduction by John Keegan; Translated by George L. Newman
Random House, 1994, 118 pages
Library Book

This amazing diary begins with an entry dated August 6, 1940: "First occupation of the Château de Périers by the Germans; altogether, two non-commissioned officers and four enlisted men." The diary goes on with a few entries for 1940, 1942, and 1943 as the occupation by German troops escalated and the château and its grounds were taken over by provisions, tanks, foxholes, and trenches. Marie-Louise, a fifty-year old widow is allowed to live in one room of the château. This is not a large château, but rather what might be thought of as a manor house.

The diary really picks up in February 1944 and from that point on there are nearly daily entries covering events leading up to D-Day, the departure of the Germans, and the occupation of the property by British troops. The final entry is for August 17, 1944.

The village of  Périers is located about three miles inland from the beaches of the D-Day invasion, about midway between Caen and the coast. It was in the middle of the action of June and July of 1944.

Through it all, Marie-Louise perseveres. She is wounded, she sleeps (when the noise of war allows for sleep) in trenches or in a makeshift shelter under her stairway, and endures news of friends lost in the battles that rage around her.  She visits nearby villages and towns and describes the devastation she sees. She bicycles to the coast and views the comings and goings between land and naval forces.

Some of the most interesting entries are when she describes the soldiers that have overtaken her home. She is a shrewd observer; her comments on the likeness and differences between the German and British troops are fascinating. How she manages to get along with each wave of troops, try to protect her property, and still maintain some dignity is a testament to the human ability to survive the unthinkable.

Because the diary ends rather abruptly, I was curious about this astute observer and her home; wondering what happened after the war. So I did some Google searches and didn't find out much more about her. I did find a few sites about the village, the most informative being  The widow and the battle for Caen . It includes photos from the war, recent pictures of the village, and a number of excerpts from the diary.

An excellent read!

For French Bingo Challenge  (square D2)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Self-Portrait in Green by Marie NDiaye

Self-Portrait in Green by Marie NDiaye, 
Translated by Jordan Stump
Two Lines Press,  2014, 164 pages, paperback
Personal copy received as part of subscription to Two Lines Press.

Shortly after I finished reading this book, I checked my Twitter feed and was led to the J. Paul Getty Pinterest gallery of Museum Selfies, a collection of artist's self-portraits.

What is a self-portrait? Is it the way the artist sees him/herself? Is it the way the artist wants to be perceived by the world? Is it a way to explain the artist's life and work? Or perhaps it is an artistic exercise. How close to the truth does the artist dare go?

French author Marie NDiaye was born in France, her mother was French, her father Senegalese. Her father left the family early on (Marie did not meet him until she was a teenager).

It is not a surprise, then, that the narrator of Self-Portrait in Green is a French writer from a broken French/African family. How much of the "self-portrait" is true, how much is imagination, how much is delusion is not at all clear. It's much like the murky water of the Garonne River which flows through the background of the portrait, threatening to flood and inundate the settlements along it banks.  As the river rises, the narrator muses on a series of mysterious women in green that flow through her life and perplex, intrigue, and haunt her.

Who are these women in green? Are they real? Are they manifestations of the narrator's self identity? One is daring, jumping off balconies but not in a suicidal fashion, she knows she'll come to no harm. Another is suicidal. Some are people known to the narrator, others are strangers.
NDiaye's writing is visual, painting mini-portraits and landscapes that take you into her world. On a rare visit with her mother the narrator observes:
    Whenever she lets down her guard, I see her eyes darting uneasily this way and that,                    
    never looking straight ahead. She then raises her hands to take off her shawl, forgetting  
    she's not wearing one. Seeing that I've seen her, she furrows her brow.
Then there is the neighbor Katia who takes refuge with the narrator's family when the lower floors of her house are flooded: 
    An absolute woman in green, Katia Depetiteville never shows any trace of gratitude 
    for a favor that's been done her. Comfortably settled in with us, she exercises her rights 
    as a houseguest with a voracity, almost a brutality, that I never see when I stop by her 
    place for a cup of coffee, when the monotony of her life and the dreariness of her house 
    so weigh on her that a gentle numbness is all she's capable of. Now she's come back to 
    life, she speaks out, butts in with her opinions, lets herself be served and coddled.

There is a harshness in many of these descriptions. There is also a detachment from reality in the encounters with the women in green (some of them are family members). When visiting her father, she sees the desperateness of her father's wife to get out of a miserable situation and return to France. She could help her, but she doesn't. Later she wonders if the woman did manage to leave, but she doesn't seem to care enough to find out. The same with a much younger half-sister: she wonders what happened to her but makes little effort to find her. Instead, she dreams that maybe several years in the future the sister will show up on her doorstep.

Green is often the color associated with envy. Our narrator, at time, seems envious of the women in green. She is certainly drawn to them. She doesn't want to lose them. She may want to become one of them.

This is a book that is as strange as its cover art; all those green branches reaching out and touching nothing. They are somewhat entwined as they leave the stalk, they seem to promise to get back together, but they never really connect.
This one goes on my TBRR (to be re read) shelf.

(French Bingo note: where to put this? A5? B4?)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Suspended Sentences (Modiano)

Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas
by Patrick Modiano, Mark Polizzotti (Translation)
Yale University Press, 2014
Paperback, 232 pages
Originally published in French as: Chien de printemps, (1993); Remise de peine, (1988); and, Fleurs de ruine, (1991).
This cover captures it perfectly

Recently I’ve been wondering if I haven't read enough of these "novels" that seem more memoir than fiction. The first person narrative where the narrator just happens to have the same first name as the author; the narrator's brother with the same name as the author's brother; the author and narrator are the same age (maybe even went to the same schools, churches, vacation spots, etc.); all very autobiographical and all--like much of our memory--fictionalized.

Then I come across another gem and none of those things matter at all. Suspended Sentences is one of these gems. The stories are good, the writing is sublime, and the place is Paris. The three novellas are somewhat connected:  the setting is post World II Paris, some of the characters appear in more than one of the stories, and they are all the memories of a man trying to piece together mysterious things that happened in his childhood and youth. 

The characters are fascinating, the stories are intriguing, and I was overwhelmed with the detailed descriptions of Parisian neighborhoods. This is one of those books that had me keeping a Google Map open on my laptop while I read, following the story through the streets. These stories could only have happened in Paris.

For French Bingo: D4

Saturday, January 10, 2015

A Palace in the Old Village

A Palace in the Old Village by Tahar Ben Jelloun, Translated from the French by Linda Coverdale,
Penguin Books, 2011
Paperback, 192 Pages
ISBN 9780143118473
Library book.

Mohammed, a Moroccan worker who has spent forty years working in a French automobile plant, faces mandatory retirement. He decides to return with his wife to his village and build a grand house where he can stage a family reunion.

His children are grown, they are French citizens, and are assimilated into European culture. One son is married to a Spanish woman, a daughter is married to an Italian. The children have no desire to return to their father's homeland.

A sad story of a family's changing values as children and parents become foreigners to each other, this story highlights the plight of "temporary" immigrant workers. Recommended for anyone interested in finding out more about the experience of Muslims in France. Covers the time period from the mid 1960s through the first decade of the 2000s.

An interview with the author on the Penguin web site is worth reading.

Note: For the French Bingo Card: not exactly what we usually think of when we talk about the "ex-pat" life, but I think Mohammed's experiences qualify.