mercredi 30 avril 2008

Colum McCann at the Sorbonne

After Jonathan Coe, ERCLA Paris IV-Sorbonne is hosting Irish writer Colum McCann for an interview with Francois Galix and Vanessa Guignery on 18 May 2008 (Monday) at 630 pm. It will be held at the Descartes Ampitheatre at the Sorbonne. McCann is the internationally renowned writer of Zoli, Dancer and This Side of Darkness.
As always, RWB will be there. Hope everyone will be able to participate in this event!

An office story

Reading the back cover of the book doesn’t give much of the story of Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. In fact, I've seen a number of people pick it up and put it back down again. After having finally read it, I think its a shame to give this book a miss. It is chock full of sly humor and a story that grows on you. And now I know why the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” holds true even in its literal sense.
The story is all about a group of people working for an ad agency towards the end of the 90s. It is a time of great anxiety as this is the beginning of the economic downturn that sets of massive lay offs. Due to the spiraling collective apprehension, the office is awash with numerous rumors and in response to such anxiety the staff begins to behave in increasingly bizarre ways. Ferris captures perfectly the microcosm of an office with all the petty jealousies among the people, the various groupings within the group, and always the gossip that percolates persistently among them. His use of the “We “ point of view is an effective way of demonstrating the pervasive group mentality as well as the boredom and anger that the members of the group feel. But more than being a humorous take on office life, Ferris writes with a nuanced voice that rings true. The story is acerbic, poignant and funny because we know that these things do happen in real life. He writers with perfect acuity about the foibles of the people and the strange and surreal things that happen in real life. At the end of reading this book, you'll be a convert to its merits and like me do your best to get others to read it.

jeudi 24 avril 2008

For fans of Khaled Hosseini

The author of the Kite Runner has written his second novel. I had loved that book: a beautifully written modern, moral tale of vast political and personal scope.
The new novel is equally a political story, but played out over thirty years of Afghanistan history. The first book centers around a boy and his maturing, of his life in California aand in Kabul; the second one has a larger cast of characters, a smaller geographical canvas, but here too time is of the essence. Thirty years of war, misery, occupation, Taliban outrages, as they effect two unconnected families in Afghanistan.
Mariam, illegitimate daughter in search of an acknowledgement from her biological father, witness to the suicide of her mother, abused by her terrible and terrifying husband in a marriage arranged by her father, encounters, in this marriage, the new fourteen year old bride of her husband who had decided to take a second wife since the first one had never succeeded in providing him with a son.
I agree, the sentence is too long, but it does summarize this tale. These two women, a generation apart, married to the same disgusting old man, manage, over time, to move from hatred and jealousy of one another, towards love and respect and a sense of belonging together.
I quote:
"Seasons had come and gone; presidents in Kabul had been inaugurated and murdered; an empire had been defeated; old wars had ended and new ones had broken out. But Mariam hardly noticed, hardly cared...the future did not matter. And the past held only this wisdom: that Love was a damaging mistake and its accomplice, Hope, a treacherous illusion." (p.273)
The book is about understanding and evolving. People can learn to change and to act. Women have power. Even when nothing seems possible, love can grow, faith can be nurtured, hope can find a place.
The descriptions of what happened in those thirty years, are brutal. The cruelty and wanton exercise of rage by men with insane convictions concerning the purpose of life and of Allah's wishes, are close to unbearable and surely not comprehensible. How is it possible for humans to torture one another without end? Ever?
Khaled Hosseini has succeeded in writing a shattering description of modern terror and yet he has given us a story of convincing love between people who have managed to hold on to their capacity to hope. I was moved to tears when I finished the book last night.
Reviewed by Renee Levine

A dark and twisted tale

The memorable opening scene hooks you and from that point, there’s no looking back till the last page is turned. That’s what happens when you start reading Michael Cox’ The Meaning of the Night.
It is a riveting and atmospheric Dickensian peopled by finely drawn characters. Its main protagonist is Edward, a man consumed with his goal to destroy his arch enemy Phoebus Daunt. The story traces the beginnings of their deadly quarrel and reveals slowly and inexorably how the two men are intertwined far more than we imagine. This is not to say however, that Edward is the usual lily white hero of our favorite books. By his own account he is not a good man (the first scene immediately establishes that) and has done atrocious things, but such is the skill of the author that readers come to feel a sort of sympathy for him and his labors. An interesting facet to his character is his great knowledge of books, the more obscure and arcane the better. There are as well a host of other characters, each made memorable by the author’s skillful prose. Edward’s match, the beautiful Emily Carteret can be likened to the best of the noir genre’s femme fatale.
Equally remarkable in this tale is the wonderful description of Victorian London. Cox perfectly captures the atmosphere of those times and his prose specially shines when describing the various goings on in the underbelly of the great city, fittingly described as the Great Leviathan. It feels a little like reading a great Dickensian novel but without the fussiness (I dare say) of such novels.
And if this may seem like a hefty tome of a book, the fast paced narration, and the twists and turns guarantee that the pages fly by. And when the end does come, you’ll be haunted by the last words on the page.

Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now is the story of Daisy, a 15 year old American sent off to England to live with her cousins. Her first few days are idyllic and she slowly begins to make a home there and even more importantly, falls in love with Edmond. Her idyll doesn’t last however as England is invaded by an unnamed enemy and soon they are separated from each other. Over the course of the war years, Daisy learns the difficult lessons needed to survive as well as learns how to take care of those she comes to love more than herself. From a selfish and immature teen, Daisy evolves into a caring and strong person and readers’ won’t be able to help but cheer her on.
There isn’t much to say except that it is a great book. Equally honest, moving and smart, it won hordes of accolades when it was first published, and all of them are well deserved. The author captures perfectly the voice and character of a troubled young woman learning to survive things that are bigger than she is. But what is really moving about this book is the love story between Daisy and Edmond which is beautifully captured and described. One gets a real sense of the passionate urgency of young love newly awakened as well as the bruising desperation that comes from being torn apart from your loved one. It was hard to put down this book yet when I finished I kept wishing I had more to read about Daisy and Edmond.

lundi 21 avril 2008

The newest from Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh, the best selling writer of the Glass Palace has just released his new novel Sea of Poppies. It is the first of a planned trilogy set in the turbulent years before the Opium wars of Eastern Asia. It is a huge and sprawling novel with the vast ship the Ibis at its heart. In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a diverse cast of Indians and Westerners, from a bankrupt raja to a widowed tribeswoman, from a mulatto American freedman to a freespirited French orphan. As their old family ties are washed away, they, like their historical counterparts, come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais, or ship-brothers. An unlikely dynasty is born, which will span continents, races, and generations.

Get your copy now at the RWB and be one of the first to enjoy the newest from Amitav Ghosh.

The new Siri book

I think its safe to say that Siri Hustvedt’s new book Sorrows of an American is one of the most anticipated books of the year. After all, fans and critics are still raving over her earlier novel What I loved. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of reading Siri, Sorrows of an American is a good introduction to beautiful writer who manages to write with great intelligence and delicacy.
Her new novel opens when siblings Eric and Inga discover a mysterious letter among their recently deceased father’s papers. Mystified they set out to investigate this part of their father’s life. Along the course of their investigation both siblings are forced to deal with their own growing personal issues. Erik is a psychiatrist whose loneliness threatens to overwhelm him and who grows increasingly fascinated by his new tenants. Inga, on the other hand is a grieving widow who discovers that her husband may or may not have had a double life.
This book explores the complicated and often interconnected themes of memory, identity, loss and secrets. These are all weighty themes and Hustvedt manages to tackle them thoughtfully and reflectively. This is a book where the external action take second place to the internal action that governs each character’s life. Even the structure in which it is written is a reflective kind of narration, with each character’s remembrances of the others gives way to the other’s memories of earlier life. In this way does Hustvedt build layer upon layer, an intricate study of the life or should I say lives of her characters. If one is looking for a story with the traditional story arc and the predictable denouement, it is best to look for another book. The strength of this book is despite the lack of action, much takes place within the characters internal lives which rewards the patient and discerning reader.
Hustvedt’s prose is beautifully written. There are passages of delicacy that resonate with truth and more often than not, you find yourself nodding in agreement at a phrase or two. It would be unjust to miss this book.

jeudi 17 avril 2008

New arrivals in paperback

For all those who hesitate to pick up a book because its too heavy to carry around, we are pleased to announce the newest arrivals in paperback fiction and non-fiction. No more excuses, now is the time to get one of those books you've always wanted to read.


1. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
2. Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk
3. Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje
4. The Gifted by Nikita Lalwani
5.Rain before it falls by Jonathan Coe
6. Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
7. The World According to Bertie (a 44 Scotland St. novel) by Alexander McCall Smith
8. The Cairo Diary by Maxim Chattam
9. The Battle of the Labyrinth by Percy Jackson


1. Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski
2. Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein
3. A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
4.Time: A User's Guide by Stefan Klein

dimanche 13 avril 2008

A monument to love

I must admit that it was the title and the beautiful cover that accompanied it was what first attracted me to this book. I thought to myself that it must surely be a good book. And this proved to be true enough. Written jointly by Diana and Michael Preston, A teardrop on the cheek of time is about the story of the Taj Mahal, the world’s most famous monument to love. But while it is about the Taj Mahal, it delves a lot deeper and gives an astute, learned and complete historical and cultural background of the epoch. The book introduces an impressive cast of characters that made up the powerful Moghul Empire from the founding patriarch Babur all the way to the Aurangzeb who deposed his grieving father Shah Jahan. More importantly we meet the beautiful and enigmatic Mumtaz Mahal, the woman who inspired such a wondrous monument. In writing this book the way they have, the authors have succeeded in fleshing out these characters so that they jump out of the page with intense immediacy. The extensive research is certainly appreciable and does justice to the subject matter.
While this is a historical book, it is nonetheless written in a highly compelling style. Within the story of the Moghul Empire is a story with Shakespearean elements and these were very skillfully brought out by the authors. They were able to weave together all the disparate strands of history, romance, political strife and family conflict together into a compulsively readable tome. At the end of the book, one sees the Taj Mahal in an altogether different light.

samedi 12 avril 2008

A good way to while away the time

From the title, you know right away that this is chick lit, light reading if you will. But this is not to say that it is not a well written one. With Bride Hunter, Amy Appleton has crafted a light tale of a young woman who after suffering her own disastrous failure in love, decides to become a modern day matchmaker, hence her sobriquet Bride Hunter. She is utterly determined to save others from a lonely fate while at the same time keeping her own heart safe from further harm. Complications ensue when she realizes that she might be in danger of falling once more to the siren call of love despite all her efforts. Appleton keeps the tone light and funny, and the book zips along with its own charm. This is a book that can quite easily be turned into a great romantic comedy film well into the tradition of Notting Hill or Love Actually. It’s the perfect read for the sunny spring days that we are now beginning to enjoy!

mercredi 9 avril 2008

A date to keep in mnd: 17 April 2008

Fans of British author Jonathan Coe will be pleased to know that he will be at the Sorbonne (Salle des Actes, ERCLA Paris IV) on thursday 17 of April at 530 pm for an interview with Sorbonne's Francois Gallix and Vanessa Guignery. He is the author of a number of well received books such as What a Carve Up, Closed Circle, Rotters Club and the latest one the Rain Before it Falls.

Your favorite and mine Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore will be on hand to sell all of Jonathan's wonderful books!!!

More information on the Sorbonne interview and how to attend, can be obtained from, and

ERCLA Paris IV Sorbonne is located at 1 rue Victor Cousin 75005 Paris.

mardi 8 avril 2008

In the bookshop it is fun to say that this novel is Le Divorce meets Suite Française- I say this not so much for the style(s) but for the time periods - as it is a novel that links Paris in 2002 and Paris in 1942., This is a novel that explores the extremely sad and sickening act of the French round up of jewish adults and children on July 16th, 1942 in Paris - the consequential passage through the Vel d'Hiv (in the 15th arrondisement) and French camps (where children were separated by force from their mothers) and then extermination in Germany and the modern tale of an american journalist and mother ( with a typical cheating French husband). There are two heroines, one the child (Sarah) who locks up her brother in a cupboard on the day the French police come to collect her family and tries to return to save him, and secondly our modern day American who decides to investigate what happened to the apartment they are renovating in the Marais district during that period and discovers that her French family she has married into is rife with family secrets that need to be aired. The book is an important one- the author chose to write the novel in her mother tongue English because as she wrote in her writer's blog : " I felt that writing the book in English and not in French, and having an American heroine, could give me the distance I needed considering the touchy subject matter where France is concerned.... "

Reviewed by RWB's Penelope Le Masson

lundi 7 avril 2008

Back in the store

Siri Hustvedt's new book Sorrows of an American is back at the RWB! Watch out for a future review here in the blog.

samedi 5 avril 2008

A great new collection of stories by Jhumpa Lahiri

Fans of Jhumpa Lahiri will be happy to know that she has just published her new collection of short stories. RWB's great friend Renee Levine has just given us her review of Unaccustomed Earth.

I shall not keep you in doubt: I loved this book not only because it spoke to me about all the malaise of my own experience, but because it does that for everyone. You don’t have to be Bengali to feel the pain, the misunderstandings, the love and the difficulty to love Jhumpa Lahiri describes so poignantly. They use d to say you don’t have to be Jewish to like rye bread before we knew about Indians in the US. The author was born in Britain in 1967, parents who had left India to improve their lot and in particular, the future of their children raised in Long Island and regularly shipped off to Calcutta to visit family so as to always maintain that bond with what was felt to be still, home. She grew up feeling, she has written, “intense pressure to be two things, loyal to the old world and fluent in the new.” All that is familiar territory and the child, inevitably feels that she has failed at both tasks. I know all that from my own life: embarrassed not only by their accents but also frustrated because they would not give me room to become “American”, my parents failed at all tasks and so did I. But more complicated, and this is Lahiri’s subject
in this volume of long stories, more difficult yet is the task of the next generation. The children born in America, rightfully their country but clearly not fitting the mold of the middle class suburban child with which the Bengali daughter or son struggles to become equal. Let’s get to the substance: There are five stories, separate from one another, linked by themes of intergenerational discord or misunderstandings, all subtle and nuanced. The second half of the book is one family, three sections of three different periods in their lives. The theme is constant. I could find any number of quotes to give you some flavor, here are two: “He did not want to be part of another family, part of the mess, the feuds, the demands, the energy of it.” Ruma’s father decides “the entire enterprise of having a family,of putting children on this earth, as gratifying as it sometimes felt, was flawed from the start.” That should be enough to get you to want to read this beautiful book.
P.S. I no longer know where I found this nice quote:
“Lahiri is an unillusioned anatomist of the greatest immigrant
success story in the United States.”
Get your copies now of Unaccustomed Earth at RWB!

jeudi 3 avril 2008

Sara Paretsky

I think there’s nothing quite like the thrill of meeting an author. Meeting someone in the flesh whose words you’ve read and followed has to be one of the more memorable things to happen to someone. It is something I can never be blasé about no matter how many I’ve met, or may meet in the future. Well today, Sara Paretsky stopped by the Red Wheelbarrow to sign copies of her new book Bleeding Kansas. She breezed in a little before lunch and started chatting away animatedly while signing her books. She is such a lively character full of interesting anecdotes. We were really pleased to learn that she loves Cara Black (whose new book Murder in the Rue Paradis is now in the store!).
Fans of her V.I. Warshawski detective series might be surprised to know that her new novel is actually quite different. It is a tale of three families from Kaw River Valley in Kansas whose lives are changed radically when Gina Haring, a lesbian Wiccan arrives in town. Critics have called her new novel, gripping with a kind of vibrant storytelling that we’ve all come to expect from Sara Paretsky. Get your signed copies now at the RWB.

P.S. Just in case you were wondering when Warshawski is coming back…she’s due to release her new novel in 2009.

mercredi 2 avril 2008

Some of our favorite titles

Inevitably, people ask us what books we would recommend. Most are looking for an interesting book to read on the plane or the train. Some are looking for gifts for other people and still others are looking to exercise their language skills. Often, they don’t want a particularly hefty tome of a book that will take too long to read. After a number of such questions, we’ve come to realize that there are some books that fit such requirements and are always included in our list of recommendations. Here are some of them:

Restless by William Boyd

William Boyd’s novel is an absorbing historical thriller about the life of Sally Gilmartin, born Eva Delectorskaya, a Russian emigree recruited into the British Secret Service in 1939. The story unfolds on a parallel track with the story of Sally’s daughter, Ruth a graduate student and single mother living a dull civilian life in Oxford in 1976. Ruth learns of her mother’s secret past through an autobiography that Sally has decided to write about her life. By installments, Eva describes the taciturn spy who recruited and trained her before becoming her lover; her secret propaganda work in New York; and the act of duplicity, almost deadly, that forced her to flee to England and live under an assumed identity. Ruth barely has time to process the shock of her mother's secret before she is swept into a dangerous game: finding her mother's betrayer before it's too late.
It is as exciting as it sounds and Boyd is able to write a completely atmospheric novel replete with period details. There are some unusual twists that hold your attention till the last page is turned.

Away by Amy Bloom

This is all about Lillian Leyb, the 22-year-old Jewish immigrant protagonist whose life reads like a tragedy. Her husband and parents were killed in a Russian pogrom, and the same violent episode separated her from her three-year-old daughter, Sophie. Arriving in New York in 1924, Lillian dreams of Sophie, and after five weeks in America, barely speaking English, she outmaneuvers a line of applicants for a seamstress job at the Goldfadn Yiddish Theatre, where she becomes the mistress of both handsome lead actor Meyer Burstein and his very connected father, Reuben. Her only friend in New York, tailor/actor/playwright Yaakov Shimmelman, gives her a thesaurus and coaches her on American culture. In a last, loving, gesture, Yaakov secures Lillian passage out of New York to begin her quest to find Sophie. The journey—through Chicago by train, into Seattle's African-American underworld and across the Alaskan wilderness—elevates Bloom's novel from familiar immigrant chronicle to sweeping saga of endurance and rebirth. Encompassing prison, prostitution and poetry, Yiddish humor and Yukon settings, Bloom's tale offers linguistic twists, startling imagery, sharp wit and a compelling vision of the past. Bloom has created an extraordinary range of characters, settings and emotions

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

For sixty years Jewish refugees and their descendants have prospered in the Federal District of Sitka, a "temporary" safe haven created in the wake of the Holocaust and the shocking 1948 collapse of the fledgling state of Israel. The Jews of the Sitka District have created their own little world in the Alaskan panhandle, a vibrant and complex frontier city that moves to the music of Yiddish. But now the District is set to revert to Alaskan control, and their dream is coming to an end.
Homicide detective Meyer Landsman of the District Police has enough problems without worrying about the upcoming Reversion. His life is a shambles, his marriage a wreck, his career a disaster. And in the cheap hotel where Landsman has washed up, someone has just committed a murder—right under his nose. When he begins to investigate the killing of his neighbor, a former chess prodigy, word comes down from on high that the case is to be dropped immediately, and Landsman finds himself contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, evil, and salvation that are his heritage.
At once a gripping whodunit, a love story, and an exploration of the mysteries of exile and redemption, The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a novel only Michael Chabon could have written.

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

In this wildly funny debut from former ad man Ferris, a group of copywriters and designers at a Chicago ad agency face layoffs at the end of the '90s boom. Indignation rises over the rightful owner of a particularly coveted chair ("We felt deceived"). Gonzo e-mailer Tom Mota quotes Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the midst of his tirades, desperately trying to retain a shred of integrity at a job that requires a ruthless attention to what will make people buy things. Jealousy toward the aloof and "inscrutable" middle manager Joe Pope spins out of control. Copywriter Chris Yop secretly returns to the office after he's laid off to prove his worth. Rumors that supervisor Lynn Mason has breast cancer inspire blood lust, remorse, compassion. Ferris has the downward-spiraling office down cold, and his use of the narrative "we" brilliantly conveys the collective fear, pettiness, idiocy and also humanity of high-level office drones as anxiety rises to a fever pitch. Only once does Ferris shift from the first person plural (for an extended fugue on Lynn's realization that she may be ill), and the perspective feels natural throughout. At once delightfully freakish and entirely credible, Ferris's cast makes a real impression

Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name

This is a taut, darkly witty, and galvanizing tale of one woman's search for the truth about her parentage. Clarissa's enigmatic mother left her family, including her retarded son, when Clarissa was 14, and vanished without a trace. A dozen years later, Clarissa is languishing in a stale relationship and going nowhere with her work editing movie subtitles when her father abruptly dies, and a gaping hole opens in her past. Now it's Clarissa's turn to disappear as she journeys to Lapland and the world of the Sami, an indigenous people who still herd reindeer. With skilled distillation, Vida evokes a culture on the brink of extinction and a legacy of loss as her anxious yet adventurous protagonist throws herself on the mercy of strangers in an otherworldly realm of deep cold, hard drinking, a hotel constructed of snow and ice, the northern lights, and long memories. Brilliantly distilled, blade-sharp, and as dangerously exhilarating as skating in the dark.

His Illegal Self by Peter Carey

His Illegal Self is the story of Che—raised in isolated privilege by his New York grandmother, he is the precocious son of radical student activists at Harvard in the late sixties. Yearning for his famous outlaw parents, denied all access to television and the news, he takes hope from his long-haired teenage neighbor, who predicts, They will come for you, man. They’ll break you out of here.Soon Che too is an outlaw: fleeing down subways, abandoning seedy motels at night, he is pitched into a journey that leads him to a hippie commune in the jungle of tropical Queensland. Here he slowly, bravely confronts his life, learning that nothing is what it seems. Who is his real mother? Was that his real father? If all he suspects is true, what should he do?Never sentimental, His Illegal Self is an achingly beautiful story of the love between a young woman and a little boy. It may make you cry more than once before it lifts your spirit in the most lovely, artful, unexpected way.

Important update on the RWB Children's Contest

For all those interested in the annual RWB Children's Writing Contest, I've posted below the letter sent by organizer Alice Cooper regarding the extension of the contest until tomorrow April 3.

Hello once again to all Parents, Teachers, Librarians and School Staff,

As some of you may have noticed, there have been some technical difficulties with the reception of some contest entries by e-mail this year. I had foreseen some problems and had hoped to troubleshoot them as quickly as possible, but unfortunately the Contest Inbox filled up extremely quickly, as you can imagine, with the numerous contest entries (which is wonderful news, really, because there has been an excellent turnout!). I have been working very hard at downloading, saving and transferring all these files to a saved folder in order to free up space at the RWCONTEST e-mail address, so please ask your students who have had any difficulties sending their entries to try sending again, until they receive a definite receipt confirmation stating that their contest entry has been received.

As a result, we have agreed to extend the deadline by two days for those participants who, again, have been having problems getting their entries in by e-mail. This is an exceptional extension for this year, because we are all new to the transmission process by e-mail, and I do want to be sure to receive all those contest entries that children have already prepared and worked very hard to write and send in with their parents', teachers' and librarians' help.

Thank you so much for all your support and for all the assistance you have been giving your children in this transition process -- we truly believe it will be beneficial for everyone, as we are saving on paper use and cost. Also, I have been able to contact those children who have had difficulties and questions and to ask them to re-send their stories if by chance the Guidelines weren't followed to the letter or if they forgot to include something in their cover sheet information. The e-mail process has allowed for faster communication in this way, making it easier for all participants to have their stories included!

Thank you in advance for letting your students know about this temporary extension -- I can accept contest entries at the e-mail address until midnight on April 3rd, once again ONLY for all those who have had technical difficulties getting their stories in by e-mail.

Please do not hesitate to contact me at this e-mail address if you have any further questions or concerns.

Warm regards,
Alice Cook
Red Wheelbarrow Contest Coordinator

** The Red Wheelbarrow Creative Writing Contest is supported by the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) France and Ecole Massillon. **

mardi 1 avril 2008

The Other South of France

Nowadays there are a number of books written by people who have decided to leave all things familiar for the lavender scented land of the South of France. Peter Mayle’s A year in Provence is probably one of the more well known examples. It is remarkable that a number of them concentrate on this particular part of the South of France. What distinguishes Martin Calder’s A Summer in Gascony from all the others is that his sojourn took place on the other side of the more famous one. As he humorously points out, it is the Other South of France.
A Summer in Gascony is a paean to the pleasures of life in Gascony. It is a retelling in the most dulcet of terms a wondrous summer spent working in an isolated farm located in the tiny town of Péguilhan, itself is lost between the mountains and rivers of Southwest France’s Gascogne region. The author arrived there as a young student, looking for a different kind of experience. And so, he immerses himself completely in farm work as well as the inn connected to the farm. In the process, he comes to have a real and lasting appreciation of living closely attuned with nature. It is also during the course of this summer that he meets and falls in love with Anja, a fellow stagiare.
This is a well written and engaging book. The author takes pains to acquaint his readers with the storied history of the region and we come away with a much better understanding of it. Of much more interest than plain history however are the quirks and characteristics of the Gascon, of which Jacques-Henri, the genial owner of the farm is a good example. He likewise reminds us that the most famous son of the region is D’Artagnan, our favorite swashbuckler!
The book is also replete with charming descriptions of village life such as the memorable Market day and nights spent at the convivial atmosphere of the auberge. As this is a book about the South of France, the importance of food cannot be over-emphasized enough. The fact that the family runs an inn with a (now) well regarded local restaurant gives us enough descriptions of hearty Gascony food to make our mouths salivate. The inn’s magret de canard sounds especially enticing! And let’s not forget that for every memorable food served, a memorable wine always accompanies it. The local vintage is almost always served and the ubiquitous Armagnac is ever present. One can almost taste and smell the different aromas as we read. Sweet, gentle and quietly funny, this is a great read for armchair travelers. And if like me, you need a bit of prodding to explore a little more the less famous South of France, this is all the prodding you’ll ever need.