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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. Gopnik is a longtime New Yorker writer, and the magazine has sent its writers to Paris for decades--but his was above all a personal pilgrimage to the place that had for so long been the undisputed capital of everything cultural and beautiful. It was also the opportunity to raise a child who would know what it was to romp in the Luxembourg Gardens, to enjoy a croque monsieur in a Left Bank café--a child (and perhaps a father, too) who would have a grasp of that Parisian sense of style we Americans find so elusive.
So, in the grand tradition of the American abroad, Gopnik walked the paths of the Tuileries, enjoyed philosophical discussions at his local bistro, wrote as violet twilight fell on the arrondissements. Of course, as readers of Gopnik's beloved and award-winning "Paris Journals" in The New Yorker know, there was also the matter of raising a child and carrying on with day-to-day, not-so-fabled life. Evenings with French intellectuals preceded middle-of-the-night baby feedings; afternoons were filled with trips to the Musée d'Orsay and pinball games; weekday leftovers were eaten while three-star chefs debated a "culinary crisis."
As Gopnik describes in this funny and tender book, 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. With singular wit and insight, Gopnik weaves the magical with the mundane in 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. "We went to Paris for a sentimental reeducation-I did anyway-even though the sentiments we were instructed in were not the ones we were expecting to learn, which I believe is why they call it an education."
Best bets for book clubs
The month of September offers excellent fiction titles for reading groups. BookPage's selections, all newly published in paperback, are listed below.
The Blind Assassin
By Margaret Atwood
This Booker Prize-winning novel blends elements of romance, suspense and - believe it or not - science fiction into what may be Atwood's most original work yet. Opening the narrative is '40s socialite Iris Chase Griffen's account of her sister's mysterious death. As the story unfolds, Atwood surprises readers by inserting a novel within the novel, a sci-fi book written by the dead sister herself, Laura Chase. But the story of Iris takes on a new dimension when her husband, a well-known industrialist, is discovered dead on a sailboat. The book's structure and scope are expansive, but the various narrative strands are in good hands, and Atwood's ambitions overwhelmingly succeed. A reading group guide is available online at www.anchorbooks.com.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
By Michael Chabon
Chabon's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel follows Joe Kavalier, an artist skilled in the art of escape, Houdini-style - a talent that gets him safely out of Nazi-ridden Prague in 1939. Kavalier makes it to New York City, where he teams up with his cousin Sammy Clay, a writer who is looking for a partner to design the art for a new comic book. The duo find themselves sitting on a gold mine when they create a host of superheroes - the mighty Escapist, the powerful, nocturnal Luna Moth - who fight Hitler and his evil forces. But off the page, the complexities of the real world beckon, as Kavalier struggles to raise money to bring his family to America, and he and Clay both come under the sway of Rosa Saks, a seductive muse who changes their lives forever.
The Years with Laura Diaz
By Carlos Fuentes
An epic novel from a master of the form, Fuentes' latest unfolds Mexican history through the eyes of Laura Diaz, whose experiences before and after that country's revolution provide the foundation for this remarkable book. Born in 1898 on a coffee plantation near Veracruz, Laura - a complex and seductive leading lady - enjoys a childhood of wealth and privilege. But she forgoes the traditional path for women of her upbringing and becomes involved in the Mexican revolution, marrying beneath her to a hero of the working class and raising a family. Spanning nearly a century, this unforgettable novel is as rich and varied as the Diego Rivera mural that graces its cover. A reading group guide is bound in the book.
By Molly Gloss
Set in 1905 on the Washington state frontier, Gloss' novel tells the story of Charlotte Bridger Drummond, an independent single mother who survives by writing dime novels featuring tough women much like herself. Charlotte's mettle is tested when her housekeeper's granddaughter goes missing, and she volunteers to join the search - a quest that resembles the plot of one her own adventure stories. Charlotte gets lost in the woods and is on the brink of starvation when she is saved by an unusual group of wild mountain folk. Shedding normal human conventions of behavior and language, she takes to their ways - all too well. It's a transformation from which Charlotte never fully recovers, one that alters her personal life and her writing life forever. A reading group guide is bound in the book.
Paris to the Moon
By Adam Gopnik
Gopnik, who was assigned by The New Yorker to cover Paris as a foreign correspondent, spent five years in the City of Light writing the columns that are collected here. The transplantation of the author - who calls himself a "comic-sentimental essayist" - and his family from one culture to another yields wonderfully readable results. Covering local and national events, as well as the fixations of the bourgeoisie, the pieces, presented through the eyes of an expatriate, have all the charm of the city itself. Along the way, readers learn what it's like to raise a family in France, a country unlike any other. Entries from Gopnik's own journal add a personal element to the book, and his observations on the differences between New York and Paris are always provocative. A reading group guide is bound in the book.