Completing today's trifecta -- soliciting recommendations for books about France
OK -- Today, in anticipation of traveling to France in the fall, I have reached out for advice on French films (excuse me, movies) and hidden gems to see where I won't be surrounded by tourists (at least non-French tourists).
How about good books about French topics...in English? I have resigned myself to the fact that I will not actually be able to read enough French literature, in French, to get me up to speed. 300 pages of Le Père Goriot is not going to give me adequate preparation (besides, I did that in high school and I don't recall it being fun).
So I am looking for good non-fiction books, written in English, on French topics. Not travel books per se....but travel essays would be OK.
For example, I am currently (moving slowly - I get distracted easily) working on "The General: Charles De Gaulle and the France He Saved" by Jonathan Fenby. I figure if you want to understand France, understanding De Gaulle is not a bad place to start. And Fenby tells the story well.
I have done a lot of reading on World War II, so I probably do not need to focus my attention there. (As an aside, one of the scenes I always remember from one of these books takes place at the evacuation of Dunkirk. The British are scrambling to get people into the boats that have come over from England, and there is a French General who refuses to wade out to a boat because his mother told him not to go in the water after eating.....And they say there will always be an England!)
A good book on the French Revolution would be great, but I tried Simon Schama's tome a few years ago and there was something about his approach that made me put it down, several times.
I am largely omnivorous when it comes to my reading....just give me a good read. I would say I am a mile wide and an inch deep, but it is more like 10 miles wide and a quarter-inch deep.
Looking for help from all the well-read people out there.
They are a little "pop" (not academic), but fun, quick reads: Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong and The Story of French by Jean-Benoit Nadeau.
Hmmm...you specify non-fiction, but stretching the point a bit, would historical fiction work? (I'm biased in favor of fiction generally, but that's another story...)
Hillary Mantel has a novel called "A Place of Greater Safety", set in the French Revolution, with Robespierre and Danton (among others) as primary characters. I haven't read it, but I did read Wolf Hall (about Thomas Cromwell) and it was amazing, so I wouldn't hesitate to recommend anything else by her.
Also, I know you've already "done" WWII, but the spy novels of Alan Furst are really well-written and immensely enjoyable--highly recommended. At least three of them take place primarily in France before and during WWII (The World at Night; Red Gold; Mission to Paris), and all of them have characters winding up in Paris at some point. Maybe for some entertaining reading between the scholarly tomes. ;-)
Yes...historical fiction is perfect. And I very much enjoyed Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall". I have read a few of Alan Furst's books, but not those three, so I will check them out. Thanks.
Cool. Hope you enjoy.
Also, if you don't limit it to written in English--if you allow translated works--then Dumas is always a rollicking good time, and for all that he takes some liberties with history, is great at evoking an historical era.
Forgot about him. Although I must admit that I believe I have started "The Count of Monte Cristo" about 7 times in my life. [spoiler alert] I get to the escape from Chateau d'If and then my attention slips away. Dependable as the sun rising in the east.