The Barnes & Noble Review
On leave from her job as a TV reporter, Aussie journalist Sarah Turnbull was freelancing in Bucharest when she met Frédéric, a charming French lawyer with impeccable manners and dreamy eyes. Acting on mutual attraction, he invited her to visit him in Paris, and she accepted. Four months later, she returned to stay. Almost French is her delightful account of how this chance encounter led to true love and a new life in the City of Light.
Turnbull's sprightly spin on the expat experience includes vivid descriptions of her head-on collisions with Gallic culture. She learns the hard way that French is a language fraught with subtle nuances, perilous pitfalls, and potentially mortifying double entendres. Her first cocktail party is an unmitigated disaster, as all her friendly overtures are met with cold disapproval. Considered too forward, too emancipated, too blokey for Parisian tastes, she despairs of ever fitting in. But bolstered by Frédéric's loving support, she and Paris begin to grow on each other. She changes careers, learns the language, makes friends, moves to a bustling inner-city quartier, and gains some insight into the centuries-old traditions that underlie French society.
Filled with colorful anecdotes and predictably rhapsodic descriptions, this deceptively breezy little memoir sheds unexpected light on the paradoxical quirks of French character that have contributed (perhaps unfairly?) to the country's famously negative public image. For Turnbull, falling in love with Frédéric was as easy as un, deux, troix. Falling in love with France took a bit more time. Anne Markowski
All in all she seems to have made a happy life for herself, but doubtless she'd be the last to say it was achieved without sacrifice, loss and even a bit of pain. She tells the story of how this came to pass with honesty and a refreshing absence of self-importance. The emphasis in Almost French certainly should be on almost, but Sarah Turnbull seems to have gotten a lot closer to the real thing than most of us who will always be on the outside looking in, even those of us who imagine otherwise.
A bestseller in Turnbull's native Australia, this cute firsthand look at the hardships of settling into a city infamously chilly to outsiders gives a glimpse of the true nature of Parisians and daily life in their gorgeous city. Though Turnbull tells readers less about love than new life, it was in falling for a Frenchman that the journalist found herself moving to Paris, for a few months that stretched into years. The cultural relationship is challenging enough, leaving aside the more intimate personal story (though readers do learn enough about Turnbull's now husband to understand her decision to stay), and she writes of finding work, making friends, surviving dinner parties and adapting to the rhythms and pace of life with a Parisian boyfriend with humor and a developing sense of wisdom. Of the struggle to adapt to her new home in the mid-1990s, the author writes, "I've discovered a million details that matter to me-details that define me as non-French" no matter how much she tries to assimilate, while over time she grows to appreciate some perplexing aspects of French culture, as "[e]veryday incidences elevate into moments of clarity simply because they would never, ever happen in your old home," from developing her confrontational side enough to defend herself (in French) from rude remarks to receiving advice from "a terribly chic blonde who advises me to use eye-makeup remover on Maddie's [Turnbull's dog's] leaky eyes." This is an engaging, endearing view of the people and places of France. Agent, Liv Blumer. (Aug. 18) Forecast: If books like A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun are any measure, there's a ready market for Turnbull's contribution to the European expat memoir genre. She's a contributing editor at Marie Claire, which could help the book get coverage in that and other women's magazines. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
In an unpretentious manner, the strong yet empathetic Turnbull relates the transition from her Australian home to a new life with her French fiance, adding a good twist of dry, self-deprecating humor. A freelance journalist, Turnbull has a knack for describing the salient and entertaining episodes succinctly yet vividly, which prevents the story from descending into monotony. From meeting her husband's extended family to attending haute couture fashion shows, Turnbull candidly assesses her new environment. She also takes the stereotypes of French culture, such as the obsession with aesthetics, acknowledges their basis in reality, and then delves deeper to find an explanation for each. Turnbull's love for her husband tempers the frustration and humiliation she experiences while mastering not only the language but also the idiosyncratic rules and customs of the French. This enjoyable and insightful book is suitable for public library collections.-Rebecca Bollen, North Bergen, NJ Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Adult/High School-This account of a 20-plus Australian woman's adventures as she tried to adjust to Parisian ways is both insightful and funny. Having taken a year off from her job with a TV network, Turnbull moved to Paris to be with her new lover, Frederic. She found that the French weren't interested in making new friends; were unwilling to discuss their jobs, hobbies, or much of anything except the food they were eating, planning to eat, or had eaten; and they wished to socialize in mixed groups-no girls' night out for them. But Frederic, with patience and aplomb, helped her overcome these obstacles, depicted in a series of vignettes that sketch many of the fascinations and foibles of becoming "almost French." She detested visiting Frederic's family in northern France, with its rainy, cold beaches, but finally warmed to his home, and was accepted by them. The couple's marriage was almost an anticlimax after a hilarious birthday celebration for 80 at the old home. This clash of cultures is, ultimately, a love story.-Molly Connally, Chantilly Regional Library, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Love and adjustment in a foreign climate. Though Australian journalist Turnbull came to Paris--and stayed--because of love, she is remarkably reticent about her relationship with Frédéric, the French lawyer she first met in Bucharest in the early 1990s. This is not an overly significant defect, because she delivers so much, and so intelligently, on the rest of her life there. The Australian TV reporter had taken off a year to travel around Europe when Frédéric asked her to visit him in Paris. She arrived somewhat apprehensive and speaking little French, but after a while found herself beginning to understand a society so different from direct, easygoing Australia. Soon she was in love not only with Frédéric but with Paris. Turnbull describes their two apartments, the first in a leafy suburb, the next in Sentier, the Parisian garment district, noisy but close to the city center. She observes the natives’ pride in their heritage and their differences, especially from Anglo Saxons, and notes the media’s deference to politicians. French business letters are written in flowery prose, Turnbull tells us, and it is considered selfish to dress like a slob. Even dinner parties are different: unfriendly and impersonal, the author found. (After fleeing from several tables to weep, she was cheered by a guidebook that advised her to think of herself as a chair to which no one was expected to talk.) As Turnbull adjusts to her new life, she begins working as a freelance writer and interviews such French cultural stars as restaurateur Alain Ducasse and clothing designer Christian Lacroix. At first the author cannot understand why Frédéric loves his family home on the chilly northern coast, but as she getsto know his relatives and the locals, that changes along with her other attitudes to the French. An engaging story of a sometimes rocky but ultimately affectionate relationship with another culture. Agent: Liv Blumer