French in Action Newsletter #14, Winter 1999
A book review by Pierre Capretz
Recently, by pure chance, I came across a wonderful little book called A French Affair by Michael Kenyon (St. Martin's Press, 1993). In it, an Englishman, a writer, who has taken his family to live in Cahors, describes his encounter with France and French culture and language. Does this sound familiar? Since Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence, at least a hundred writers have embarked on similar journeys, picking up and leaving New York or London, setting out to inhabit some sun-drenched destination-be it Provence or Tuscany-where old farmhouses and olive oil abound. So you're probably thinking: "Can this story be told again and still be interesting?" The answer in this delightful book is an unequivocal oui. Kenyon's style and story are perfectly charming, as humorous as Mayle's accounts of his own adventures in Provence, and reveal perhaps a somewhat deeper, more penetrating insight into French culture than that found in Mayle's masterpieces.
To give you an idea of how accurate Kenyon's perception of French culture is, let me say that he notices and remarks on almost all the points featured in one lesson or another of French in Action! While the book is filled with images of Cahors and the Lot-truffles and prehistoric caves, cèpes and confit and foie gras, and a half a page on cassoulet-its subject is not limited to that region. Everywhere, you will find charming anecdotes of Kenyon's encounters with France and its people set throughout the country, more than one of which will call to mind the escapades of the heroes in French in Action.
Here are just a few examples:
There are so many common points between A French Affair's and
French in Action's views of French culture that you would almost
think that there is some literary influence between those two chef d'oeuvres,
which is not the case. No, it is just a case, let us modestly surmise, of
les grands esprits qui se rencontrent. . . . A French Affair was
published after French in Action, so the hypothesis of its having
any influence on FiA has to be discarded. And it is unlikely that Mr. Kenyon
learned French with FIA; when he ventures to quote a phrase or two in French,
you suspect that his grasp of the language is not quite up to the level
one would expect from someone who has mastered all of French in Action's
fifty-two lessons. At least it is certain that he has not gone as far as
Lesson 36: he wonders at one point how to say "rusty" in French.
Even if his French were as rouillé as Robert's Japanese, Mr. Kenyon's
understanding of French culture is as brilliant as his talent.
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