Posts Tagged ‘France’

Cycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong by Juliet Macur

September 30, 2014

Road bicycle racing was the first sport to ignite my imagination. The dynamics of the peloton (the main group of racers), the nature of the teams in the competitions, the individual contributions to the group effort, the silent sacrifices by the domestique, the physics of the sport, the incomprehensible physical effort, and the epic quality of the races – it was all endlessly fascinating. Later in life, when I heard French philosopher Roland Barthes refer to le Tour de France as a heroic poem – the substance of legend – I concurred.

Many years after the first encounter, I reconnoitered an upcoming Tour de France stage in the French Alps. When I left the car, the gradient was so extreme that I almost toppled over, and when I walked up the mountain road, the altitude offered only exhaustingly thin air. It was easy to appreciate just how extreme these athletes were. But by now I knew that the riders were not just exceptional human beings. With the help of EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, cortisone, and human growth hormone, many of them were, in a very real sense, superhuman.

Cheating has been part of le Tour de France since the very beginning. During the late 1990s and the early 2000s, cheating reached an unprecedented level of sophistication, and ringleader Lance Armstrong – who won Tour de France seven times in a row! – became the face of the deception.

Cycle of Lies is in part a journey through a sport that had become deeply corrupt, but the book also exposes the dangers of weak journalism. When Lance Armstrong began to dominate the Tour de France, American journalists who knew little or nothing of cycling flew over to Europe to write about the superhero. As Armstrong and the Postal Service team crushed the competition, newly arrived journalists saw heroic efforts; veteran journalists who had covered le Tour for years saw something else. What Armstrong and his teammates were doing simply wasn’t possible. Headlines in French media read, “Armstrong, the Extraterrestrial of the Tour,” “On Another Planet,” and “Hallucinating Armstrong.” In the U.S., the mainstream media stood behind Armstrong, and Washington Post reported that the French were jealous: “France’s motto: If you can’t beat them, investigate them.”

The message of Juliet Macur‘s book is clear: Don’t find your heroes in the images produced by media.

When the accusations finally started to find traction in the U.S., writer Malcolm Gladwell defended the actions of Lance Armstrong, but then he went on to say, “When you write about sports, you’re allowed to engage in mischief. Nothing is at stake. It’s a bicycle race!”

He’s wrong, of course. The physical and mental well-being of human beings is at stake here. People’s livelihood is at stake. Their ethical and moral interactions with the world are at stake.

If that doesn’t matter, what does?

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The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

July 17, 2014

The Hundred-Foot JourneyReader beware: reading this book may cause extreme hunger, salivation and an extreme case of wanderlust.

As a boy in Mumbai, Hassan Haji grew up in his family’s restaurant. Food was his way of life and viscerally connected him to his mother. Because of religious strife, a fire destroys the restaurant and kills his mother. Very distraught, his father takes the children and flees India. His father still wants to be in the restaurant business,  but cannot seem to find a profitable niche. He eats his way across Europe until they end up in Lumiere, a quaint village in the French Alps.

Lumiere does not know what to do with the brash, Indian family. Hassan’s father decides to open a restaurant. Likeable and with a discerning palate, Hassan’s father wins over the locals through his loudmouth joviality. But he makes an enemy in famous, local chef Madame Mallory. She owns the respected restaurant across the street and is beside herself with anger at the tacky restaurant with the gaudy colors, loud music and foreign odors. Madame Mallory does everything she can to make the restaurant fail.

Madame Mallory is more distraught when she discovers that the son of this loudmouth has a wonderful gift. Hassan has a way with food and flavor. Madame Mallory believes this gift is innate. Her jealousy gets the best of her when she confronts the family and accidentally causes Hassan to be severely burned. After a lot of guilt and some time reflecting on her life and actions, Madame Mallory decides to take Hassan on as her pupil. Hassan’s father is adamant that this will not happen, but as we all know, Madame Mallory is relentless when she wants something.

And so begins a beautiful relationship that takes Hassan to the top of French cuisine. This is a delightful read that will warm your heart!

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The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure

May 29, 2014

parisbookcover.phpCharles Belfoure’s The Paris Architect is set during the Nazi invasion of France. It illustrates how Parisians were affected and how they had to use all their willpower to just survive this era. They could keep quiet or turn the other way when they saw how the Jews were being treated. Some even gave away their Jewish neighbors’ whereabouts, if they thought they would be targeted by the Gestapo themselves. Lucien Bernard, whose whole life ambition is to be a well-known architect, lives in this scenario.

When a rich industrialist asks him to build an ingenious hiding place for a wealthy Jewish friend, Lucien agrees because of the money he is offered. As a result he also gets a big German contract and is able to design buildings to his heart’s content. He earns praise for it, which is every architect’s dream. But Lucian slowly begins to feel empathy for the pain and helplessness of others. He changes without knowing it himself. He falls in love with a wonderful woman, saves a life of a Jewish boy whom he starts loving like a son and somehow is able to have a family to call his own.

This piece of fiction shows us two facets of human values, one in which humans go to extremes to harm other humans and the other of courage, morality and humanity.

This was a really interesting read!

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The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes

February 27, 2014

JoJo Moyes latest novel is similar to her other book, The Last Letter From Your Lover, which was part historical fiction and part modern novel. In The Girl You Left Behind, Moyes starts with the story of Sophie, a French woman living in a town that is occupied by the German army in 1916. Sophie and her sister must protect their family from the occupying force, all the while convincing the town’s residents they are not collaborating just because the enemy chooses to eat at their hotel. Sophie and her sister Helen have been alone with Helen’s children since their husbands both went to war. When Sophie’s husband, a painter, goes missing from the front, she is desperate to know his fate. Her only remembrance of him is a portrait he painted of her.
The second part of the book tells the modern story of Liv Halston, who was left a painting by her late husband. The painting’s provenance and whether Liv owns it legitimately becomes the focus of an international debate. Liv ends up in court accused of profiting from a stolen painting. Suddenly, she may lose everything she has, including the painting.
The Girl You Left Behind (the title of the painting) was a really good story, although I enjoyed the first half of the book more. The second portion did a good job of wrapping up the historical mystery, but Sophie’s story was so compelling I missed that part when it ended. There were quite a few convenient discoveries and coincidences in the modern story that stretched believability, but Moyes writes such lovely characters I was willing to overlook.

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Good as Gone by Douglas Corleone

November 8, 2013

goodasgoneLooking for an edge-of-your-seat thriller that grabs you and doesn’t let go? Read Good as Gone. Simon, a former United States Marshall, is abducted by the French National Police who desperately need his help. They are looking for Lindsay, a 6 year old American girl snatched from her hotel room. Simon normally rescues kidnapped children, but only from non-custodial parents who abduct their kids. This kidnapping is something else entirely and Simon’s not sure it’s his kind of case. Reluctantly, he agrees to investigate, if only to ease the minds of the frantic parents. Simon understands what these parents are going through: his own child was kidnapped by persons unknown, and that single event destroyed his family. Simon’s daughter Haley would be sixteen by now, and he has not lost hope that he might find her, although as a former law enforcement officer, he knows the odds are not in his favor. He tries not to let Haley’s fate color his present-day investigations, but this case in particular stirs up old memories.

In his quest to find Lindsay, Simon journeys through Eastern Europe, including the darkest realms of pornography and prostitution. But Lindsay isn’t where the majority of runaways end up. This is looking to be a different type of kidnapping. Where is she? For what purpose was she kidnapped?

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Versailles by Kathryn Davis

October 18, 2013

This is an historical, experimental, and poetical novel, one version of the story of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France (b.1755-d.1793), of “let them eat cake” infamy. The action is often set as though it is a stage play, with chapters that begin with setting the scene, and then dialogue between characters. We are watching a play. We have the chance to “see” the French royal court historical figures from the mid- to late eighteenth century in all their finery and humanity. We are aware of Marie Antoinette’s end, but the book brings to us her complicated life. Was she a misunderstood teenager or a woman of loose morals or a reckless spendthrift? Some chapters are written from the first person perspective of Antonia (Antoinette). We begin to know some of the emotional conflicts she experienced, how confused she must have felt leaving her home in the Austrian Hapsburg court. The novel and the historical accounts tell us that she was largely unaware of the political reality around her. Kathryn Davis brings Antoinette’s thoughts to life in an extraordinary way: she has Antoinette sometimes use a first person voice, and at other times refers to herself in the third person. In Versailles, Marie Antoinette grapples with existential problems that feel very contemporary. It makes for a very interesting and arresting read. For example:
“My soul thought she’d be happy, and then, one day, she’d die.
But, die.
What does this mean?
One day Antoinette will not exist, though her soul continues to flourish.
And WHO IS THAT? WHAT IS THAT?”

Of course, much of the novel is about the palace itself. It lives and breathes and dies as surely as the people who inhabit it. We learn about how and why it was built, some of the modifications that were made, and why it was important in the history of the French Revolution. It comes alive in these pages.

Kathryn Davis’ writing is subtle and honest and full of fancy. Versailles has much to recommend it: the complex and modern writing juxtaposed with the 18th century French Revolution, the glamour and richness of the court and the realities of daily life, and the beauty of the palace. Ms. Davis has won several writing prizes and is a writer in residence at Washington University in St. Louis. Her other novels include The Walking Tour and The Thin Place.

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Disquiet by Julia Leigh

September 26, 2013

This is a deeply atmospheric and tense novella — a brief book that could be read in an evening or a long rainy afternoon.

A woman and her two young children turn up at a somewhat decaying family estate in rural southern France. From the very first scene there is a sense of a resigned desperation that lives in all the characters, perhaps except for the youngest and most innocent in this sad family group. Death, abandonment and brutality live close by love and honesty.

The reader is kept at a bit of a distance from the inner psychological workings of our adult characters by dispassionate language, lack of inner dialogue, and descriptions of time and place instead of much dialogue. This distance is obviously well-thought out, and exquisitely rendered. The audience must supply a lot of the connections and assumptions about the family. While there is much beauty in the writing and a profound sense of timelessness in this contemporary tale, there is darkness and brutality and sorrow. The combination of the splendors of nature and the harsh realities of life make for a compelling reading experience.

Australian-born author Julia Leigh has multiple talents, including screenwriting and film directing. She wrote the novel Hunter which was made into a movie in 2011, and she also directed and wrote the screenplay for the film Sleeping Beauty, made in 2011.

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Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman

March 27, 2013

Okay, yes, this is sort of a parenting book, and perhaps not the type of book that you’d generally just pick up off the shelf, but it’s a really interesting read, whether or not you’re a parent. (Of course, since I am a parent, that’s easy enough for me to say – I’m game for pretty much anything that might make my kid more awesome.)

Pamela Druckerman was an American journalist living in Paris when she and her British husband started their family. Druckerman was immediately struck by the differences she saw between American and French parenting, and the resulting kids from each of those styles. French kids seemed, in general, to be calmer, less prone to tantrums, and to eat the same meals as everyone else (the concept of the “kids meal” being practically non-existent there.) American kids, on the other hand, are often more outspoken and confident in school, and… um, that might have been the only plus about American kids.

The book really isn’t anti the way we raise our kids in America, however. It shows both the pros and the cons of the French styles, and lets the reader make their own decision about what we might deem “good” or “bad”. Some things I’d steal from the French in a heartbeat (wine list in my hospital room? Well, hello!) and others I’m less inclined to take part in, like what Druckerman refers to as “The Pause,” where French parents wait for up to 15 minutes before tending to their crying infants, to try to understand what they need.

All in all, this was an interesting read, and I learned not only some new techniques I might try when my little one gets older, but also cultural differences between French and American adults that stem from the way we as a society raise our children.

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Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2012: Amy W.’s Picks

December 18, 2012

Look, I have the world’s longest “to read” list and lately it has become very unwieldy. Every time I finally get around to reading one of these older titles I kick myself — what took me so long?! There is something for everyone read by me this year! There is history, inspiration and excitement all at your finger tips. These books don’t really have any of my favorite literary elements but they did knock my socks off! Here are my 5 favorite “new to me” books for 2012. — Amy W.

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
I have always been interested in the Great Depression including the Dust Bowl. Egan, winner the National Book award for this book in 2006, and Pulitzer Prize  winning journalist for the New York Times, elegantly crafts a narrative of the Dust Bowl using the words of those who lived through it. Hard economic times, plowing up the sod and a nation-wide drought created a perfect storm of dust as perseverance gave way to despair.

My Life in France by Julia Child
I listened to this as an audio book and it was delightful! I cannot think of many people who are as beloved – or as full of passion and life – as Julia Child. It was wonderful to hear in her own words about her life as a bored housewife, who moved with her husband to a foreign country where she didn’t know the language,  seized by the art of French cooking to find her true calling.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
John Irving is an excellent storyteller. His characters are colorful without being garish. His tangents are whimsical and insightful. The title character, Owen, an unusual boy to begin with, hits a baseball during little league that strikes his best friend’s mother dead. This one event greatly impacts the lives of both boys, and incredibly brings them closer together. A Prayer for Owen Meany is destined to be a heartwarming modern classic.

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth
This is the memoir that spawned the BBC series of the same name (shown on PBS earlier in the year). More than a memoir, Call the Midwife, documents the poverty and challenges of 1950’s East End London and the changes in women’s health through the years. Sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious, this book is an unforgettable story of compassion.

Fun and Games by Duane Swierczynski
This book takes place in La La Land, the land of perpetual summer: Los Angeles. If you like Tarantino, unstoppable assassins or seedy underground networks, this book is for you. It is excitement ripped from the pages of your favorite tabloid or comic book as told by this talented author.

Paris in Love by Eloisa James

September 26, 2012

After surviving a bout with breast cancer in 2009, romance author (and Shakespeare professor) Eloisa James took a sabbatical and moved to Paris with her family. During their year-long stay, James chronicled their lives on her Facebook page and through Twitter. For Paris in Love she arranged these posts chronologically and divided them into chapters with an introductory essay for each chapter. Here’s a sample post from the Winter chapter:

“The streets are suddenly filled with men selling chestnuts, roasted over oil barrels. Alessandro and I bought some, wrapped in twists of newspaper. They split open from the heat, showing sweet yellow insides. We walked along slowly, nursing the warm packages in our hands, eating smoky, slightly charred nuts.”

Along with descriptions of Paris weather, restaurants, shopping and culture, James tells us about her family and their adventures. We learn about her teenage son who struggles to succeed in his new school. We also get to know her 11-year-old daughter, who is a real free spirit/troublemaker (depending on your point of view). And we are along for the ups and downs of James’ relationship with her Italian husband Alessandro.

Some readers may not enjoy the disjointedness of these short entries, preferring a more narrative style. But I saw this arrangement as a good thing. It made the book so quick and easy to read. I could experience the flavor and poetry of living in Paris, without spending hours a day making my way through the book. It’s a real boon for the armchair traveler who has limited time to read.

For more information about the book, visit its web site Paris in Love . Here you will find book excerpts and photographs as well as biographies of the family members.

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