FRANCE IN MIND: An Anthology

Alice Leccese Powers, Editor, Alice Leccese Powers, Introduction by . Vintage $14 (320p) ISBN 978-0-375-71435-1

Powers (editor of Italy in Mind and Ireland in Mind) does France in this collection of 33 letters, works of fiction and essays by British and American authors. The pieces stretch from the early 18th century to the present, but the omission of dates for some entries is frustrating. Dated or undated, itemized descriptions of sky, sea, vegetation and cathedrals can make for dry reading, as in the selections by Henry James and Ezra Pound. By contrast, the juiciest entries convey how being in that sensual country stamps out the conventions travelers sometimes bring. Most evocative are Adam Gopnik's excerpt from Paris to the Moon, which uses his wife's prenatal care in France to contrast cultural attitudes toward pregnancy, sex, parenthood and doctor's fashions; Ernest Hemingway's vignette of a starving writer's hunger from A Moveable Feast; David Sedaris's tale from Me Talk Pretty One Day, on the exasperation of learning to communicate in French; and, of course, the requisite Peter Mayle—who inspired so many to visit Provence that he himself had to flee—from A Year in Provence, on getting used to the French social ritual of kissing on the cheek. Earlier writings describing the desperation of poor Parisians before the French Revolution—Charles Dickens's broken wine cask scene from A Tale of Two Cities and Thomas Jefferson's 1780 letter to James Madison concerning his encounter with a destitute woman—do much to illustrate that era. A common thread runs throughout this mostly pleasant collection: as Powers puts it, "travelers in France are heavily freighted with the weight of home." Agent, Jane Dystel. (Mar. 11)

Reviewed on: 12/23/2002
Release date: 03/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Prebound-Sewn - 978-1-4177-0946-5
Ebook - 320 pages - 978-0-307-48508-3
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