French Impressions (John Littell) – Review (Paris in July)

French impressions : the adventures of an American familyFrench Impressions: The Adventures of an American Family by John Littell
Age: Adult
Genre: Memoir
Location: Paris
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2002
ISBN: 9780451205346
368 pages

Written in a narrive based on the publishing writing and diaries of Mary Littell, her son John uses her voice to tell us the story of a year in their life, from July 1950 to July 1951, when his family moved from the United States to Montpellier in Southern France. Full of wacky antedotes about bumbling Americans in a foreign land, the novel is not only a story about France, but a post-war family trying something new in their life.

For the most part, I found this book to be really amusing. Other times, I felt it was very self-indulgent and flat. Mary Littell is a 1950s housewife, following her husband on his lifelong dream to live in France. Takng their two children with them, four year old John and 15 month of Stephen, the family, despite their best attempts, never fully manage to blend in with the French way of life.

What I loved most about this book is that it is a look into a life of a typical family in the 1950, an era I have an unhealthy obsession with at times. In a time before TV, before technology entered people’s lives, the family had only themselves and their imagination to rely on for entertainment. John’s father, Frank, always had a witty song ready for any moment of the day. Both Frank and Mary were well read and full of literary references made in sly and clever remarks. John is a sponge for the French language, and Stephen seems to only cry and cry all day and all night long. Written by John, I can’t help but wonder if he perhaps embellished his brother’s crying episodes at times. He was only 4 when the family lived in France, I wonder how much he actually remembers.

I think its wonderful he had access to his mother’s diaries of their time in France as well as her published articles about their exploits. I like this book because it is opposite of every other American in France book I have read. It is an honest account that just sometimes, France is not the country for the masses, no matter how hard they try to learn the customs and language to fit it. I felt sorry for Mary’s inability to grasp the language, relying on her son to translate. I felt bad for Frank, who spoke fluet French and would perhaps have had a grander time san la famile. I liked that French words were sprinkled throughout the book, and I think its amazing that they were able to see so much of the country during their time there.

This book may not be the France-won-my-heart type of memoir, but it is a special remembrance of a more simple time long gone.

Book 30 of 2011

Find this book at your local library 


2 responses to “French Impressions (John Littell) – Review (Paris in July)

  1. This sounds like an interesting book. I like the era of the fifties as well and I always like reading about actual families in believable situations.

  2. It is definitely less glamorized than fiction books set in the same era. I liked this book more as a story of a family, then of the family in France.

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