At first glance, Mark Greenside hardly seemed a promising candidate to extol village life in Brittany. For one thing, the Jewish New Yorker didn't speak the language; for another, he had only moved to Brittany at the behest of the girlfriend about to dump him. When she left him, the stranded expatriate has forced to fend for himself, struggling with pidgin French and mysterious village folkways. Eventually, he and his bemused neighbors came to understand and appreciate one another, thus providing us with a visitor's passport into the region already being touted as the next Tuscany.
a charming variation on the theme popularized two decades ago by the British writer Peter Mayle in his Provence series: Anglophone city slicker resettles in French hamlet and confronts domestic mini-disasters and eccentric locals…this slight memoir captures [Greenside's] blossoming Francophilia with infectious joie de vivre.
The New York Times
In 1991, Greenside, a teacher and political activist living in Alameda, Calif., found himself at both the end of a relationship and "the end of the world." The French world, that is: Finistère, a remote town on the coast of Brittany, where he and his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend spend 10 weeks. Preternaturally slow to negotiate the ways of life in a small Breton village, he gets help from Madame P., his slow-to-melt landlady and neighbor. At summer's end (as well as the end of his relationship), his attachment to France became more permanent through the quasi-impulsive purchase of an old stone house, which was made possible with the help of Madame P. She figures prominently and entertainingly through the rest of the book, facilitating several of the author's transactions with the sellers and the local servicemen who provide necessities such as heating oil and insurance. At times the author's self-deprecation comes across as disingenuous, but his self-characterization as a helpless, 40-something leftist creates an intriguing subtext about baby boomerism, generational maturity and the relationship of America to France. Greenside tells a charming story about growing wiser, humbler and more human through home owning in a foreign land. (Nov.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
This charming book, a tribute to trusting one's fellow humans and to the French love of problem solving, describes Greenside's construction of a life in France despite his minimal knowledge of the language. Led to a rental house in a Brittany village by a female companion and fellow writer, Greenside ended up purchasing a house, thanks to strong-willed neighbor Madame P., and staying long after the relationship with his companion had fallen apart. The reader will recognize themes common to accounts by other Anglo-American owners of French property: the speaker of "a little" English actually speaks none at all; the worker shows up when he wants to. Unlike other books, however, all of the main characters are portrayed positively, in some cases surprisingly so, as when the home's previous owner gives Greenside a car. The author describes denying his "American" self while in France and presents his childlike "French" self with honest humility. In contrast, for example, to David Sedaris in Me Talk Pretty One Day, Greenside presents his fractured French in the original, leaving some readers out of the joke. For larger public libraries.
Fiction writer Greenside (I Saw a Man Hit His Wife, 1996) charts the unlikely trek that led him to purchase a house in the scenic hamlet of Plobien, France. When the author, then in his late 40s, reluctantly agreed to accompany a girlfriend to the western reaches of Brittany in 1991, he anticipated nothing more than a summer vacation. But this urban denizen of Oakland, Calif., became deeply enchanted by another way of living in a place and a society completely foreign to him-so taken, in fact, that he now divides his time between the United States and France. Greenside makes much of his shortcomings as an American abroad, spotlighting his abysmal French and rudimentary knowledge of Breton etiquette as social handicaps that initially both endeared him to and alienated him from his new neighbors. The bulk of the memoir centers on the many contrasts he has discerned between French and American life. For example, on practically his first hours in Brittany, he learned two things: "In the U.S., cleanliness is next to godliness. In France, it is godliness"; and, "In France, there's a product for everything-just as there is a worker for everything." Much later, Greenside recognizes with self-deprecating humor that his bicontinental experiences have virtually split his personality. "I don't know if it's as Marx said, because I'm a property owner, or my tentativeness as a foreigner, but whatever it is, I've come to believe change, almost any change, is not for the better but the worse," he writes. "In the U.S., I live as if there is nothing that cannot be improved. In France, I don't touch a thing. I leave it alone even if it is worn, bent, crooked, scratched, dented, if it skips, blinks, itdoesn't matter, because bad as it is whatever I do will make it worse."A charming travel memoir showing how comfort can sometimes be gleaned from the unfamiliar. Agent: Philip Spitzer/Philip G. Spitzer Literary Agency
"One of the nicest of the trillions of books about France." Diane Johnson, author of L'Affaire, Le Mariage, and Le Divorce
"This tale of how one man accidentally becomes a thoroughly integrated member of a French village is funny, insightful, and winningly self-deprecatory. (My favorite character may be the nervous insurance agent.) And Mark Greenside's version of rudimentary spoken French is actually a good demonstration of how to communicate in a language you don't know!" Lydia Davis, author of Varieties of Disturbance: Stories and translator of In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
"A light, lighthearted, occasionally very funny romp through a region of France not well represented in the travel literature. With his fresh eye and self-deprecating wit, Greenside sketches a wry, cautionary tale for all those of us who are tempted by adventures in foreign real estate." Michael Sanders, author of From Here, You Can't See Paris: Seasons of a French Village and Its Restaurant
"Mark Greenside has written a sweet, evocative book about the pleasures and perplexities of buying and owning a house in a small town in France. It's a funny, enlightening journey. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the trip." Richard Goodman, author of French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France