Sunday, October 28, 2012

Review: C'est la Vie by Suzy Gershman

Suzy had always fantasized about moving to Paris with her husband, but when he dies unexpectedly, she decides to fulfill their dream alone. Here she gives a deliciously conversational chronicle of her first year in Paris and of the dizzying delights and maddening frustrations of learning to be a Parisian.

This is one of the books I found through PaperBack Swap recommendations after reading Entre Nous and giddily requested it hoping for a similarly pleasant experience. It was tough going at first. By page 70 I was thoroughly annoyed with Ms. Gershman because at that point the book read more like a shopping instruction manual with endless mentions of Born to Shop and incessant dropping of names of famous people and brands that began bordering in pretentious. "Is this really who you are, Suzy?" I kept thinking. I get it, this is her life and her social circle, but had it not been for brief glimmers of hope in the form of short entries that actually talked about Paris and the French lifestyle and people unrelated to luxury merchandise and who's who of the Parisian "it" list I would have given up and moved on. I did stick with it though and was rewarded with longer chapters that gave me what I came to Ms. Gershman for - a glimpse of her experience living the French life.
As the book progressed and the chapters got longer and less healfhearted Ms. Gershman's personality began to come through and I began to see something in her that was more than a woman spending away her husband's life insurance money. I could see a practical woman having a hard time but determined to not fall apart, a woman rediscovering and reinventing herself, following her dream and doing it in a foreign country and in a foreign language at that. I liked her spunk and that she had standards and an unfailing sense of humor. I enjoyed her stories about holidays, cooking French deserts for the first time, making new friends and dealing with the internal conflict of nurturing herself and worrying about her son's reaction to her choices. These were real stories and I preferred them to the tales about buying overpriced designer sheets.
This isn't your typical book about starting over in France with the author struggling to make connections outside of the expatriate community or being unreservedly enamored with the French. Ms. Gershman arrived in Paris with a well-established network already in place, she had money, and her lack of fascination with Parisian style is obvious and refreshing. She is unabashedly American and is not trying to blend in. She speaks frankly and in detail about the charm of having an affair and her disenchantment with it, as well as medical issues and the difficulties of navigating the French bureaucratic systems. There is not a gossipy feel like in All You Need to be Impossibly French or the reserved distance like in Entre Nous. It is actually more like Almost French in that the authors see the good and the bad clearly and appreciate France for what it is. I wonder whether these two ladies know each other - they are both freelance journalists and they arrived in Paris at the same time (imagine my surprise when I realized this).
This is a fun book and had the first half been more like the second I would have enjoyed it much more. As it is I would recommend it to those who is moving to Paris or is entertaining the notion, those enjoy shopping, or those who want to see what it's like to live in France. I'm with the last group and some day soon will continue the vicarious adventure.


  1. I love the thought of living in Paris but don't think this would be a book for me. Have you read Paris, My Sweet?

  2. Hmmm...I really enjoyed 'Almost French' which I read whilst I was over there and was like reading my life! This, however, sounds a little shallow and perhaps not my cup of tea. I'm a bit more intrigued by Paris' bookshops than it's fashion ( Chanel OF COURSE! :-D)

  3. It's definitely not my favorite France-themed book so far, I mainly appreciated that it gave a little bit of a different perspective on living there. I'm putting Paris, My Sweet on the list, Sam!