All Good Things: From Paris to Tahiti: Life and Longing

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Overview

In this lushly written follow-up to Almost French, Sarah Turnbull explores a new paradise: Tahiti.

Having shared her story in her bestselling memoir, Almost French, Australian writer Sarah Turnbull seemed to have had more than her fair share of dreams come true. While Sarah went on to carve out an idyllic life in Paris with her husband, Frédéric, there was still one dream she was beginning to fear might be impossible—starting a family. Then out of the blue an ...

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All Good Things: From Paris to Tahiti: Life and Longing

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Overview

In this lushly written follow-up to Almost French, Sarah Turnbull explores a new paradise: Tahiti.

Having shared her story in her bestselling memoir, Almost French, Australian writer Sarah Turnbull seemed to have had more than her fair share of dreams come true. While Sarah went on to carve out an idyllic life in Paris with her husband, Frédéric, there was still one dream she was beginning to fear might be impossible—starting a family. Then out of the blue an opportunity to embark on another adventure offered a new beginning—and new hope. Leaving behind life in the world’s most romantic and beautiful city was never going to be easy. But it helps when your destination is another paradise on earth: Tahiti.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Joshua Hammer
…an episodic but engaging memoir…[Turnbull's] vivid descriptions of coral reefs and jungled mountains, and her touching account of raising her young son, give this memoir a distinctive flavor—a South Seas version of Under the Tuscan Sun.
Kirkus Reviews
2013-08-15
A lushly described account of daily life in Tahiti from an outsider's perspective. Turnbull (Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris, 2003) and her husband, who brought them to Tahiti from Paris for a work assignment, socialized, worked, traveled and ultimately made a home for themselves in a place many consider to be solely a vacation destination. As an Australian with a French husband, and given Tahiti's complicated history with France, the author is admirably sensitive to cultural differences. Her portrayal of the islands and their people isn't romanticized or naïve; she is cleareyed about the negative aspects of her life there. Her neighbors and friends are people, not exotic props, and she develops genuine connections to them. Another thread of the narrative is the author's infertility and ultimately successful attempt to conceive through in vitro fertilization. As important as the medical journey is her emotional one: Though she had undergone the process in France and had given up on pregnancy, a remark from her therapist motivated her to try again. Her description of a harrowing accident that befell her son is all the more poignant since we know that he was the result of a "precious pregnancy." All of her experiences--her daily swim in the lagoon, a walk through the local (and only) town or the exhilaration of snorkeling--are richly rendered in expressive language. The book is frank and personal, and at times, it feels like reading the author's diary. This is also a drawback, however; though it is well-written and edited, there is little sense of pacing or balance. A sensitive, mostly enjoyable memoir of making a life on Tahiti.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781592408832
  • Publisher: Gotham
  • Publication date: 6/3/2014
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 366,968
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Sarah Turnbull is the author of the international bestseller Almost French. She now lives in Sydney with her husband, Frédéric.

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Read an Excerpt

PROLOGUE

When I’m in waist deep, I stop for a moment to take it all in.

It’s another flawless daybreak; there isn’t a whisper of breeze. In the distance, hovering above the coral reef, the fine mist and spray of broken waves glow like a halo; around me the lagoon spreads a silvery skirt. The surface is so still I feel almost guilty disrupting it. While the temperature may have cooled overnight it is hardly cold, and on this liminal fringe it’s difficult to discern between air and water. I don’t even really feel wet, rather wrapped in the softest silk. Through the crystalline surface, patterns appear magnified and fascinating: the delicate whorls on my own finger pads; the hermit crabs scurrying out of my way, so well camouflaged they look like sand, shifting and blossoming around my feet.

But this ritual has become essential. Briskly, I adjust my swimming goggles. Overhead a couple of seagulls circle, interested only in the tiny fish that spray into air when I dive in.

These first few seconds underwater are like a rebirth. Or maybe they’re more like one of those near-death experiences that survivors liken to being drawn into a tunnel of beauty and brilliance, only here there are no walls, no limit to the luminosity which spreads in every direction. Either way, the unburdening is instantaneous. In the opaline rush of streaming water, a weight I can’t name loses its grip and gets left behind in the fizz of my wake.

One two three breathe. I count my way through the first hundred meters. It takes a few minutes for my limbs to remember the rhythm but pretty soon I’m longer, looser. It’s schoolgirl freestyle: nothing fast or fancy, just enough to earn me third or fourth place in the 50-meter sprint at annual carnivals. But for a shallow breather like me, swimming is fantastic—more than yoga or running or any gym class, it gets me drawing in deep lungfuls of air, and on a good day it feels like someone’s thrown open the windows on that locked and empty space below my stomach. It was my preferred exercise in Paris, too, which is why I was so thrilled we found a house right on the lagoon.

After heading straight out for a couple of hundred meters, at a large head of mustard-colored coral I tack parallel to the shore, keeping an eye out for the stroppy clownfish who doesn’t take kindly to encroachments on its territory. On the sand below, stingrays prowling for shellfish have left winding trails, like spaceships that came and went in the night. The bottom looks close, though you can’t trust distances underwater. Try as I have to pencil-drop to the lagoon floor, my feet never quite touch, though the local spear fishermen descend twenty meters or more without air tanks and flippers.

Early on, an obligation to be adventurous had made me try new directions. Once I struck out for the coral reef 800 meters offshore, toward the glistening frill of freshly cracked waves that delineates lagoon and deep sea. Another time, instead of turning left I headed in the opposite direction for the islet Motu Ahi. The distances weren’t greater than usual and as life changes go these experiments were inconsequential.

Yet somehow those swims had felt all wrong and the days got off to a shaky start. I’d learned my lesson. Now, faced with the freedom of swimming in any direction, I stick to my route like a sure-footed mountain goat, all too aware of the hazards of leaving the trail.

People talk about switching off when they exercise but it is during my morning swims I feel most switched on. Not to reality—at least not realities onshore. Out here the novel that’s going nowhere seems blissfully far away. In this womb of water there is no sense of solitude or emptiness. Even time—whose sluggish pace on land I have come to dread—acquires a playful fluidity, streaming through my fingers in ribbons so satiny and seamless I am barely aware of them.

Instead I switch on to myriad small miracles: the fine comb of a tiny fish fin; the dark grace of a spotted eagle ray, more skybound than waterborne. Or the startled schools that flutter nose-down, like striped snowflakes, when I reach the shelf. The mere sight of the deeper blue waters, looming like a shadowland, sets my heart racing. The drop is only about twenty meters but after the glass shoals it feels like an abyss.

My eyes swivel anxiously, scanning for sharks. They’re only harmless reef varieties, no more than one and a half meters in length, though underwater everything looks bigger. As tests of courage go, it is unremarkable. But these days I’m grateful for any sense of accomplishment, and for me this shelf is a valued challenge, an essential part of my morning ritual.

As abruptly as it fell, the bottom rises again to a shallow garden. The coral is nothing to rave about; the colors are dull and tweedy. Yet between the branches, in the crannies and caves, it’s all go. There’s so much life nibbling, hiding, watching, slithering, darting through tentacles of sea anemones whose tips cling but don’t sting when you brush them.

At the navigation marker for boats, I turn back. My heart starts racing again—not from fear but unbounded pleasure. The return journey is my favorite leg of the swim. With each breath I glimpse the sandy shoreline, fringed with coconut palms, and if I turn my head far enough I can see Mount Mouaputa, watching me unblinkingly with the eyehole that perforates her summit. I stay out deep: right in the boat lane, as Frédéric pointed out, unimpressed. Though by then I’d been swimming for too many months to start worrying about it. At this hour there’s never so much as a pirogue on the lagoon anyway.

Here, over the gently ribbed sandy plain, color and light and volume amp up to create a whole new register of stunning effulgence. Were I an artist, I might be tempted to paint it—look at the wondrous, weightless infinity Monet created out of a garden pond! The water is not simply turquoise; it segues constantly from yellow to honeydew-melon green, from aqua to peacock blue to ultramarine. It’s impossible to say where one shade begins and another ends. Into these radiant splashes and spills the sun has cast a shimmering net. Each diamond-shaped loop undulates, as if to its own song, and because there are millions of them, because the net is infinite, the impression is of something pure and vital, as if this dazzling, dancing filigree of light were the ocean’s pulse or breath.

Science tells us it’s just bending light: sun rays refracting upon hitting the water, as they do on penetrating glass or in the thin, hot air above a road. Science tells us a lot of things. To my mind, the sight—which is felt as much as seen—is enough to inspire belief in God and miracles. And I do believe, fervently—right up until I get out.

I swim the final few hundred meters as fast as I can. Not from a desire for this to end but because my energy is boundless. I feel strong to the core; mighty. I’m flying, gliding, falling. No longer swimming but intent on grasping one of the wands of light, with all my heart wishing I might melt into this wondrous mirror, become part of it, dissolve, before my feet touch land.

Because the temptation to stay in is strong I get out briskly. No lingering in the lagoon— it’s one of my rules. I rinse off quickly under our outdoor shower, positioned between two tall palms. Frédéric jokes that, like having bird poo land on you, getting struck by a coconut might bring good luck—but this is one superstition I’d rather not put to the test.

Though when you want something badly, when you really long for something, you might try almost anything.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 19, 2013

    Very Enjoyable

    I really enjoyed reading this book. Sarah Turnbull does a great job of describing her surroundings and her open-hearted outlook keeps you pulling for her. Looking forward to finding out where she goes next.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2013

    Mariah

    Here

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