Paris in Love: A Memoir by Eloisa James

Plot (from randomhouse.com)

In 2009, New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James took a leap that many people dream about: she sold her house, took a sabbatical from her job as a Shakespeare professor, and moved her family to Paris. Paris in Love: A Memoir chronicles her joyful year in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

With no classes to teach, no committee meetings to attend, no lawn to mow or cars to park, Eloisa revels in the ordinary pleasures of life—discovering corner museums that tourists overlook, chronicling Frenchwomen’s sartorial triumphs, walking from one end of Paris to another. She copes with her Italian husband’s notions of quality time; her two hilarious children, ages eleven and fifteen, as they navigate schools—not to mention puberty—in a foreign language; and her mother-in-law Marina’s raised eyebrow in the kitchen (even as Marina overfeeds Milo, the family dog).

Paris in Love invites the reader into the life of a most enchanting family, framed by la ville de l’amour.

Buy at: Amazon | B&N | Powell’s

Things I Loved

Paris is my favorite city in the world. I spent a few idyllic days there about four years ago. It was untouristy as possible. Our routine was: wake up, walk until we got hungry, buy food from a patisserie or boulangerie, walk until we got tired, sit in parks with our books to read and take turns napping, wander into shops, walk until we got hungry again, enjoy a glorious meal in a secluded restaurant, walk until we got tired again, went back to our hostel.

The point of that story is not just that I love Paris, but that I love that particular idea of Paris. And that Paris in Love captures my idea of Paris perfectly. It’s interesting in that it’s not a memoir in the strictest sense. It’s a collection of (thoughtful) Facebook posts interspersed with short essays, sort of snapshots of daily life á Paris. It’s a memoir as lived in the present tense but curated with a sense of memory. (That is the most pretentious sentence I’ve written on the blog so far. Forgive me.)

Mary Bly (who writes romance novels under the pen name Eloisa James) was diagnosed with breast cancer within days of her mother’s death from the same disease. Radical surgery puts her in remission rapidly, but she and her husband, Alessandro, began reassessing their life. Both college professors in New York City, they decided to sell their home in New Jersey, buy an apartment in the city, and spend a sabbatical year in Paris with their two teenage children.

This book chronicles their family adventure: her children’s trials at their bilingual school in Paris (where they try to juggle French as well as their native English/Italian–James’s husband is a bona fide Italian knight), family activities, her writing life, her adventures in the city, clothes, and food. Some of the stories are hilarious, others are envy-inducing.

The food. Paris does food amazingly well, especially cheese, and James writes about all of the amazing things she eats. It made me want to eat all the things and weep that I have become lactose intolerant since I went to France and will never again be able to eat gouda avec cumin and crème brûlée. I also love the way she writes about clothes. It’s partly remembering clothes from childhood, how she transitioned into having an adult fashion sense, and fashion realizations she has in Paris.

It is my secret dream to take a year-long sabbatical in Paris (never mind that I don’t work in a profession where sabbaticals are an option), and Paris in Love was the perfect book in which to indulge that fantasy vicariously. I checked it out from the library in e-book form, but I think I’ll need both paper and e-book copies for myself so I can reread it every year or so.

Qualms

I wish there had been accompanying photographs! The book was a great window into both their family life and my favorite city (not to mention the food). I think photographs could have enhanced some aspects of the text, but I realize that it couldn’t have been feasible (photography skills of involved people, ethics of publishing photos of your children in a book, etc.). Photographs could have detracted from the text as well. Maybe a supplement or a small web gallery would have been doable, as something related to the text but not part of it.

Also, I’m one of those people who likes Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I don’t mind Gilbert’s “navel-gazing” and generally liked her thoughtful appraisal of her life. James’s book composed of Facebook posts, like a form of publicly curated journaling, which makes it introspective by definition. So if you hate Eat, Pray, Love or travel memoirs written by upper middle class white women, Paris in Love might not be your thing.

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