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on June 4, 2004
...and think that "The New Yorker" slant on everything is the apex of Western thought, then you'll love this book because you're the kind of person who goes to Paris and experiences it and notices it the way Mr. Gopnik does. If you detest "The New Yorker"/"New York Times" Manhattan-centric provincialism, you'll hate this book. If you're somewhere between these two extremes, well, you'll love and hate "Paris to the Moon."
Gopnik is a fine writer and observer it's always gratifying to read well-written expatriate tales. (I lived in Asia for years and am still looking for competent contemporary expat memoirs of Southeast Asia). Some of what he writes is engaging--he takes you inside the national library, demystifies the Ritz, describes everyday rituals that become something else overseas. Some is mundane--if you're not a parent or you loathe (your) children, your eyes might glaze over reading about his son and daughter and wife's pregnancy. Some is excruciatingly precious--the occupation of a restaurant (such revolutionary, soul-shaking activism!), the explanation of how super-expensive French restaurant cooking really is about peasant roots, one person's outrage over a perceived misuse of curry powder.
In short, my reactions to Gopnik's book were pretty much my reactions to Paris. It's hard to tell sometimes if Gopnik is just reporting or really finds all he writes about momentous, but it's refreshing to read contemporary accounts of urban life that aren't layered in irony or polemics.
A good companion piece is Lawrence Osborne's "Paris Dreambook", a fantastical account of Paris's underworld that is feverish and lurid where Gopnik's book is measured and polished.
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on June 6, 2004
This book is a wonderful memoir of a New York family that moves to Paris for a period of 5 years with a young son in tow.
Adam Gopnik writes this book in a style of short stories or essays that weave into one great book. He offers a well thought out idea of what must be said from an American in Paris. His comparisons are very real, some light-hearted, some blatantly profound. Gopnik shows his vulnerability many times as a fish out of water, but he tries harder than the average American to blend into his surroundings and take on some of the easier characteristics of becomming French like developing a fondness for a life of profound beauty, a taste for well prepared food, relaxing into the dining experience of the cafes and brasseries, showing his son the art of the carousel rather than the brainlessness of "Barney", and eventually creating another child born a Parisian.
The best chapters in this book are the ones that Gopnik writes about his son discovering himself in Paris. His favorite food becomes croissants rather than ketchup fast food burgers, his puppy love with a young French girl in the Ritz pool, how he would rather play at the Luxembourg Gardens than with a television and most importantly how he adapts to becomming a childish little Frenchman. With this said the one chapter I would skip is "The Rookie" a portion in the book that somehow just dosen't fit. From the elegance of the French life back to the world of baseball? Personally I would have just left the entire chapter with an editor and walked away.
Gopnik shows how well he has adapted to French life in the portions of the book that he dedicates to the cafe Balzar. This cafe becomes the victim of a corporate buyout and is almost lost until a band of dining brothers glue themselves together and form a secure fortress in pure French flair to save the cafe in its original form, garcons and all! It is an interesting look at how easy and yet how complicated life can be in Paris, all that French discussion can lead to something good.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves Paris and craves a walk down its Rues. Gopnik makes little things seem absolutely important and accurately describes all of the large and small nuances between the French and Americans. His wife, Martha, says it best, "We have a beautiful existence in Paris, but not a full life, and in New York we have a full life and an unbeautiful existence." This must be why Paris remains in the minds of most Americans who walk along its streets but slowly find themselves returning home, to the rush and bustle of America with an over-inflated heart.
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on March 16, 2004
I found this book to be perfectly charming. This is a New Yorker writer, whose wife is a filmmaker. Repeat that sentence and ponder its meaning. Some of the readers who have posted review here seem to expect Adam Gopnik to write a book about somebody else's experiences. They wouldn't do this themselves, or have their children do so. They wouldn't expect Hemingway to write about feng shui or Jane Eyre to write about the Peloponnesian Wars. This isn't a history of Paris, or a guide to the subway system. Perhaps Paris brings out self-obsessiveness; perhaps living in any other country does; but I compare Gopnik favorably with Anais Nin and Henry Miller, two other self-obsessed American writers in Paris, and wonderful writers they are, albeit in the 30's. (And by the way I think Gopnik is possibly Canadian; certainly his wife is.) His touch is lighter than Miller's. His affection for his family creates a warmer sort of familiarity than Miller's (which is very winning in its own way). There's a can-you-top-this aura to Henry Miller, whereas Gopnik just marvels at things and shows off his whimsical humor and gift for association. At the same time I find his prose to be more concrete and outwardly directed than Nin's. Not a high bar, that!
Gopnik makes it clear from the outset what his and his wife's admittedly enviable plans are for the next five years, for the duration of this book. Buyer beware.
I would agree that he takes awhile to hit his stride, but Gopnik's talent for generalizing from common experience is wonderful. The parallel he finds between Americans' attitudes toward sport and the French's toward government officiousness is priceless. He manages to come to an understanding of soccer, a feat that to my mind compares favorably with writing, say, War and Peace. He may wander for a time in fashion circles (were I in Paris with the appropriate press pass I would too), yet he has a talent for bringing the whole crazy scene down to earth. He and his wife are raising a boy and (near the end) giving birth to a girl, and I find nothing wrong, and everything praiseworthy, about giving this side of his life center stage from time to time. The description of pregnancy and childbirth in France is one of the most memorable parts of the story.
As you might expect, there is plenty here about food, and about restaurants, and about language, and about globalization, and about New York, too, aka home. As with New Yorker writing at all times, the prose is idiosyncratic, breezy, maybe a little unedited. That's just the way it is. I guess if you like it, you love it, and if you don't you don't.
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on March 27, 2003
The WORST book I've ever read. I bought it originally to share a unique feeling you get from visiting Paris. The only thing I could share with the author was the need to sell this book. His stories were pretentious and so full of arrogance, I couldn't follow along. He talks about streets and hotels that only the rich have seen. Unless you've been there, you feel excluded. He certainly is no Peter Mayle. With Mayle's books, you yearn to visit his world and do what he's done. With Gopnick, you physically yearn for the book to be over. I can't remember how many times I put the book down in disgust or how many stories I half-finished to hopefully find one more interesting. However, guilt was the only reason I ever finally finished the book, and I'm so glad that I've gotten rid of it today. It was a waste of time and of money. I would recommend you buy twenty copies of Mayle's books. You'll finish them all ahead of this one. (A little note--The question is not whether you agree with my review. It's whether it's helpful or not. Use that criteria when clicking above.)
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on December 1, 2003
I've read many books about Americans in France since I am an American in France myself and this has got to be the worst. I was annoyed hearing about the author's son and how precious we should think he is because he puts his dirty feet on bar stools to play pinball and pulls on lace curtains at restaurants. No wonder a stool magically appears under the pinball machine -the owners were probably sick of this American brat messing up the chairs for other customers! The author also reveals his thoughtlessness by "forgetting" to return six plates to a restaurant he convinces into serving him American-style take out. There is also lots of arrogant name dropping of all the famous people and expensive wines and food the author drinks and restaurants he visits. With Americans like this in France, no wonder the French hate us. The writing style was also annoying and jumped from one random thought to another. I felt like I was reading the badly written diary of a schizophrenic. The guy can't decide if he likes France or hates it. I only finished this in the hopes that it would get better but it never did. Waste of time.
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on May 14, 2004
Paris to the Moon follows the relationship of a new father with an old city. The book's anicdotes describe Parisians and the awkward curiosity that Americans have with the Gallic personality. Gopnik is a Paris romantic, but doubts that the city remains the international capital of culture.
Gopnik is a New Yorker at heart, but has a tremendous desire to understand and to fit into Paris. This dilemma never resolves itself, but Gopnik's struggle is a journey that is unique to contemporary America (and Paris). The desire to be separate from New York, a romanticism for Paris, and the uncertainties that come with being a father mix for a touching description of an American abroad.
As a casual speaker of French, a new father, and a lover of Paris, I found the book insightful and meaningful.
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on October 17, 2000
What a sublime book! Adam Gopnik combines an amazing breadth of knowledge about the world (actually, about many worlds) with an impressive eye for details. And what details! Paris bursts into view here as though we're looking through a steroptikon for the very first time. Highly recommended to Francophiles, Gopniphiles and all readers who long for a book they can say they loved.
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on November 11, 2001
Adam Gopnik's highly entertaining essays of an American family's life in Paris in the late 20th century reminds us of the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle cultural differences between Parisians and Americans. Why is the food considered so superior? What's so bad about Barney (the purple dinosaur)? What are the rules of café culture and haute couture? Gopnik clues us in with witty and insightful writing. During Gopnik's 5-year stay, some of the essays appeared periodically in The New Yorker.
Gopnik presents his lifelong fascination with Paris through humorous anecdotes of every day living. He can't totally leave his American sensibilities behind, either. A labor strike thwarts his compulsion to have a Thanksgiving turkey and soccer fans are rigorously compared to baseball fans. Gopnik seems to admit that maybe not everything is better--some things are just different. But his enchantment with the city is apparent in his solidarity with indignant patrons of a local brasserie when they fear its corporatizing, and through his appreciation of Paris' idiosyncrasies.
Whether or not you've been to Paris 100 times or never been at all, this book is trés bien. You'll feel like you've been there when you're through.
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on July 17, 2002
The title, Paris to the Moon, derives, as the author points out, from a book by Jules Verne (From the Earth to the Moon [1865]). It may also conjure up, as it did in my mind, George Melies silent masterpiece, "Le Voyage Dans La Lune (1902), with its unforgettable image of the man in the moon wincing as the rocket hits him square in the right eye. Unfortunately, this is only one of many of Gopnik's rather forced allusions, and for the most part, his prose doesn't quite measure up to his aspirations. His attempts at coming across as a reverse-crossing Alexis De Toqueville never acquire the necessary intellectual weight to be taken seriously. This leaves him in Peter Mayle territory, the French capital equivalent of the Provencal ex-pat, wending his way somewhat comically through the trails and tribulations of Gallic bureaucracy, with large dollops of cultural commentary along the way. Here again, however, the comparisons do not lend themselves favorably to Gopnik. Mayle is much better at this sort of thing. For one thing, Gopnik's anecdotes are far less amusing than Mayle's. Whereas Mayle's vignettes capture perfectly the charming idiosyncrasies of his Provencal neighbors, Gopnik's come across as recherche, almost contrived. Again like Mayle (who must at the least, have been in the back of Gopnik's mind as a model for this sort of writing), Gopnik frequently digresses in his story to discuss cultural and particularly political variants in Parisian society. Yet whereas Mayle might take off on a tangent that actually leads to some new insight into "the French character," Gopnik provides no real revelation or compelling portrait. We just get his less than insightful musings in too many instances.
The book's strong points, on the other hand, look, at first glance, as among its most glaring weaknesses. At one point in the book, he writes for several pages about a bed time story he made up for his young son. It revolves around an infant baseball player, named the kid, who becomes a pitcher for the early-century New York Giants. What starts out as gaggingly cloying, turns out to be rather inspired story telling. It also provides a very sweet, genuinely touching portrait of the relationship this father had with his little boy.
Another high mark goes to Gopnick for providing some genuinely useful information for Americans who might wish to make a prolonged sojourn in Paris. His discussion of the differences between American and French appliances and the varied assortment of outlet prongs should serve as a valuable warning to Yankees who want to follow in Stein's, Fitzgerald's and Hemingway's footsteps, as should his depiction of apartment hunting in the city of lights.
Some readers at this site have objected to the fact that Gopnik was in too privileged a position and vantage point to be somehow "authentic." This is beside the point. These were "New Yorker" articles, after all, not triple A guideposts. Though a little pseudo-intellectual at times, Gopnik does not come across as a snob.
There are shortcomings and merits to this book. As a family journal, it succeeds, as we do get a clear picture of what it is like to raise a small nuclear family (later a "choix du Roi [sp?]) in the environs of Paris. Where the book fails, is in its measure of wit, which by Maylesian standards, is sub-par.
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on September 8, 2002
There is so much to like about this book that it's difficult to begin at any specific spot. Aside from the wonderful viewpoints of Parisian life offered by a true North American (that is: someone who was born in the United States and lived for many years in Canada), there is pure entertainment value in Gopnik's writing about French cooking and French restaurants--historically and contemporaneously. Renting an apartment, buying Christmas trees and strings of lights, all the things that are ordinary events on this continent are entirely different, challenging, even frustrating for Gopnik, his wife and son in Paris. But more than anything else, what I found completely engaging was the growth of Gopnik's son, Luke Auden, during the family's five years in Paris. The child is so vividly drawn, so very real, so very French in many ways and yet multi-national, that his adventures, his thoughts and words and even his little-boy "love affair" with the divine Cressida are--as represented by his father--completely enchanting.
Of his own Parisian gaffes and uncertainties, of his passions and his evolution into a true "foodie" Gopnik is refreshingly truthful. He writes beautifully, whether it's about politics, or cooking, or dining out. And, ultimately, he comes across as someone who is very aware of every nuance of the world and the people around him.
This is a lovely book. Most highly recommended.
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