FRENCH SPIRITS: A House, a Village, and a Love Affair in Burgundy

Jeffrey Greene, Illustrator . Morrow $24.95 (304p) ISBN 0-06-018820-0

In 1992, Greene (American Spirituals) and his wife-to-be, Mary, decided to buy and restore an abandoned presbytery in a tiny Burgundy town; the poet recounts a story of backbreaking work and cultural discovery in this pleasing expat memoir. Rogny locals were astonished that anyone would want to reconstruct a place they believed was filled with the spirits of centuries of inhabitants, but the spirits that haunted Greene were living people: Père Jo, the charismatic last curé, retired and living in another town but far from forgotten in Rogny; Coco, the elflike caretaker of the church next door; and the author's eccentric mother, whose presence suffuses the house the moment she moves in with them. American and French spirits meet, and temperaments clash: Coco, who has appointed himself overseer of the reconstruction, argues with the author's mother about the right way to plant a garden; a family friend who comes to help with the renovation antagonizes the alcoholic Coco because, as a member of AA, he refuses to drink; and men from the town shake their heads in disbelief at a bathtub drain clogged with wildflowers Greene's mother has gathered. Greene loses focus when he indulges in overlong accounts of his family history and his two-day wedding celebration, but his sympathetic portraits of the living spirits that surround him are affecting. Greene has real respect and empathy for the people he describes, and he doesn't use them as merely amusing background, which makes his book refreshingly different from some other recent American-abroad memoirs. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 02/04/2002
Release date: 03/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
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