Paris. The name alone conjures images of chestnut-lined boulevards, sidewalk cafes, breathtaking facades around every corner-in short, an exquisite romanticism that has captured the American imagination for as long as there have been Americans. In 1995, Adam Gopnik, his wife, and their infant son left the familiar comforts and hassles of New York City for the urbane glamour of the City of Light. For Gopnik this was above all a personal pilgrimage to the undisputed capital of everything cultural and beautiful. So, in the grand tradition of the American abroad, Gopnik walked the paths of the Tuileries, enjoyed philosophical discussions at his local bistro, and wrote as violet twilight fell on the arrondissements. Yet, at the end of the day, there was still the matter of raising a child and carrying on with the day-to-day, not-so-fabled life. As Gopnik describes, the dual processes of navigating a foreign city and becoming a parent are not completely dissimilar journeys-both hold new routines, new languages, a new set of rules by which everyday life is lived. Weaving the magical with the mundane, he offers a wholly delightful, often hilarious look at what it was to be an American family man in Paris at the end of the twentieth century.
Adam Gopnik's account of a American family living in Paris for five years falls into a second category; a book that is a snapshot of a time and a place, but one that is rapidly fading and which will be forgotten in a few more years. It's a very specific memoir, full of a young father's infatuation with his son, and it's the story of a specific family (well-to-do New Yorkers writing for The New Yorker) in a specific place (Paris, circa 1995).
Which is not to say that this is not a highly readable book. It is. But I suspect that my enjoyment of it is based on the similarities of our experiences. I lived in Paris for a year and we started our family in a European country and watched our children being not altogether American. So much of what I liked about it were the parts where our experiences overlapped. Gopnik interviewed Bernard-Henri Levy; I had a crush on Levy when I lived in Paris (I was taken with the idea that a philosopher could be a sex-symbol). Gopnik's wife had their second child in Paris; I had my two children in Munich, and found Gopnik's experience to be similar to my own. My time in Paris occurred just a few years before Gopnik's, so that I recognized his version of Paris more readily than I do Paris of today.
There are pieces of this book that are very, very good. The chapter on the trial and surrounding media storm of a French public official charged with war crimes was excellent and a brief segment on the French interviewee's astonishment over being called by fact-checkers was funny and thought-provoking.
There is simply a lot of this book that is specific to Gopnik's own experiences and which doesn't expand to universality. His search for an American-style place to work out, for example, or the long story of his son's first crush at age five. And while the reader gets an painstaking account of the bedtime story Gopnik told his son, complete with his son's trenchant commentary, there is almost nothing about his wife or how the move affected their relationship.
I loved this book, but I think that I loved it because of the memories it brought back, more than for the writing itself.
This book captivated me, and is partially responsible for rekindling my own urge to spend some serious time not only in the City of Lights, but in the rest of France. Gopnik is witty and eloquent and captures perfectly the charm that I imagine Paris to have, all while patiently exploring and navigating the many differences between his native culture and that of his adopted city.
Deceiving in the way that apparent mundane subjects contain deeper truths
Having lived abroad most of my life the experience of the expatriate resonated with me
Some passages were poetic and beautiful.
From Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik photo 211686ce-fb8b-46ef-9e73-04f0426431e1_zpscunxnxnm.jpgThis book is a collection of his award-winning “Paris Journals” that he filed for the magazine. But unlike other books that are an assemblage of essays, this book is not choppy or undisciplined. It’s an intelligent, heartfelt look at the most beautiful city in the world at the turn of the twenty-first century. (Gopnik was there for Y2K but returned to America shortly thereafter.)
Some critics have complained that Gopnik’s essays are outdated, but I think they transcend time. He has captured the very heart of Paris culture and attitude. It’s well worth reading whether you’re planning to visit Paris or not.
I loved this book. 5 stars
The author often will use french words and vocabulary without explanation for the English reader - given that it's written for an American audience it's an odd choice. Sometime's it can be puzzled out from context, but often I was left just unable to imagine what his family is experiencing. (example: "gigot d'agneau avec flageolets" - something you eat, that's as far as I can get).