February 2008

For our first Book Club selection, I chose Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky.

Not only did I find Suite Francaise to be an interesting book, but the story behind how the book was finally brought to light was just as intriguing. After Nemirovsky and her husband, Michel Epstein, were arrested and sent to Auschwitz their two daughters escaped. The youngest of the two grabbed her mothers notebook in the escape, thinking it was her mother’s journal. Neither of the girls had the courage to read what was written within until they decided, 64 years later, to donate it to an organization collecting tidbits from holocaust survivors. Denise Epstein then chose to type the contents for her own records and in doing so discovered it was actually the beginnings of what was to be an epic novel.

Originally meant to be five books long, Suite Francaise has been reduced to two books, Storm in June and Dolce, because of the author’s untimely and tragic death. After reading these first two sections in their unedited form, I am convinced this surely would have been a masterpiece had it been finished.

Of the two books I preferred Storm in June, mostly because I fell in love with the Michauds and because there was more action. Also, because there were so many characters to hate, especially (for me) Madame Pericand. To me, the Pericands personify the French family I’ve been working for during the past seven months. Nemirovsky was able to describe this type of upper class family that feels entitled to everything. The description of her attitude toward her servants on pages 8 and 9 really struck home with me.

One thing I also really liked about this book was that Nemirovsky wasn’t afraid to kill off her characters. Some of them were pretty predictable (and even she questioned them in the notes they found about the book, calling one of the death’s “schmaltzy”), but all the same, I liked that she didn’t try to make everybody live through the war.

I felt like Dolce was too slow moving. But at the same time I think it was reflective of how things really were at that period of time. In Nemirovsky’s notes that followed the book, I could see that she herself was waiting, and during the war it seemed there was nothing to do besides wait and hope for something final.

I have read negative reviews of this book on Amazon. Most of them discuss a lack of solid characters, saying the characters come out very one-dimensional. I disagree. Throughout the book, I felt like I could really see these characters. Yes, perhaps she didn’t go to great lengths to describe each character, instead she allowed the characters’ actions to do the talking.

One thing I would have preferred though would have been to have seen more of the Michauds and other people like them. I felt like there were far too many upper class people in the book, which I think reflects Nemirovsky’s feeling about the way she was treated throughout the war.

One of my favorite quotes from the book comes from Mme Montmort (whose name gets misspelled several times in the book, changing from Montmort to Montfort) on Page 288: “If she drank or had lovers, you could understand her lack of religion, but just imagine, Amaury, the confusion that can be caused in people’s minds when they see virtue practiced by people who are not religious.” (Amaury is Montmort’s husband.)

Overall I found the translation to be good. There were a few mistakes in phrasing and tenses, which showed that the translator was obviously not a native English speaker. Those few errors could have easily been solved though by an editor (if they were a native English speaker). Still, I was amazed at the beauty of the prose, even through a translator. I commend her for doing such a wonderful job.

I highly recommend this book, especially if you’re at all interested in WWII or French history. This was the first time I’d ever read a book about WWII written from the French perspective and I learned a great deal. I also found it more realistic because it was actually written during the war.

One last note and then I’ll shut up. I found it interesting that Nemirovsky chose not to write in any Jewish characters. That was a huge part of the war, and something extremely close to home for her. I’m guessing she didn’t use any Jewish characters because she was worried she wouldn’t be able to write it objectively. Choosing arbitrary characters from other classes perhaps made it easier for her to deflect her own pain? What do you think?

Also, be sure to check out other blog reviews of this book:
The Book Mine Set


Let me tell you a little story…

In anticipation for one of my life-long friends arriving today, I was at the grocery store yesterday and I tried to convince Tony to let me splurge and buy champagne so Angela and I could make mimosas for breakfast when she arrived. Somehow he talked me out of it (I’m pretty sure by reminding me that champagne always gives me a headache), but I was certain champagne was a good idea.

When Angela arrived this morning – at 7:27 a.m. mind you – the first thing she says to me after hello is, “We should go buy champagne and make mimosas!”

Let’s just say my heart was smiling in a big way.

Angela’s arrival here is pretty much the best thing ever since Tony getting here. It’s the most amazing feeling to meet up with someone and not have to explain all of your old stories, and have to validate your alcoholic tendencies. Angela even trumps Tony because I don’t have to spend time trying to convince her that I used to be a crazy Mormon who never swore or drank alcohol. She can fully attest to these facts and even add to the horrificness of these stories.

Angela and I have had our rough patches in the past, but we’ve grown up together and we’ve grown through all of that bullshit together, which, really, only makes us better friends.

Her being here though really makes me look forward to coming home even more. Why? Because I’ll have all of my friends that I won’t have to explain my life story to. I won’t have to tell them I was once married and try not to look nervous as they secretly judge me. They were there. Shit, some of them were in the wedding. I don’t have to tell the story of how Tony and I met. And I can say no to a night out and not worry that they’ll never invite me out again. I could go on, but let’s just say I miss you guys.

As for the mimosas: Once the grocery store opened we bought three bottles of champagne and blood oranges to make fresh-squeezed mimosas. We then went to the Eiffel Tower. Stopped at a bar to get a beer. Went to McDo and got beer with our extra value meals. Came home, slept it off a bit. Went to La Fee Verte and had absenthe (me, wine). And now we’re headed for bed.

A day that starts with alcohol at 9 a.m. is pretty much an amazing day. It’s been months since I’ve done that (in fact, I do believe the last time was with Angela as well). It was nice, although I did get a bit belligerent with a couple of gypsies on the Champs Elysees a few times. I’ll have to get more sleep tonight otherwise I’ll be a mean drunk again tomorrow.

Oh, man. I just got a myspace friend request from my youngest sister. I’ve been telling Tony lately that I really need to censor myself since more and more of my family is finding this blog or my TNB posts (My grandma wrote me the other day to say she’d found my TNB posts and I immediately started going through my brain file to decide whether there was anything grandma would be offended by. I decided no, but still). Anyway, with Kati on here I really have to be less belligerent. It’s just not OK.

Also, what is a 13-year-old doing on myspace? It says she’s 18 on her page and it’s open to the public?! I wrote her as soon as I saw the friend request and told her to IMMEDIATELY change her age and make her page private. I think I’m also going to have to call my parents and get her in trouble if she doesn’t do it. Myspace is no joke for young kids, but of course they think they’re completely invincible.

I started packing last night and two things occurred to me. First, Tony and I still have a hell of a lot of stuff. How did this happen? I’m going to ship one more box of stuff (mostly books) home and then hopefully everything will fit in our four suitcases. Tony has to go light because we bought him a cheap ticket home and they only allow you to bring on 25 kg of luggage. Considering he had 50 kg on his way here, we have quite a bit to shave off there. We’re currently trying to stuff it all into my baggage.

The second I realized is that I move an awful lot. In fact, by the time Tony and I move into our apartment when we get back to Sacramento, I will have moved 14 times in the last 9 years (the time since I moved out of my parents house). That means I move approximately every 8 months. And for the first time I’m really tired of it. As I was thinking about this, I turned to Tony and asked if we could settle down for awhile when we get back. Of course he said it’s no problem. I’m going back to school and he wants to go back to school too, so it’d probably be best if we just planned to stay in Sacramento anyway. But it was really a huge relief to get it out there and say it.

The only problem now will be finding a place that I won’t mind living in for two or three years (or more, who knows?). I really, REALLY want a place with out own washer and dryer. And I super want a garden so I can grow my own vegetables and herbs (plus, I want a worm bin and Tony says I can’t keep it in the house). The hitch: I don’t think they have this in the price range of “poor” and “poorer.” But it’s possible. I’m scouting out craigslist daily.

In other news: After having my freelance website for more than a year, I’m finally finished with it and willing to share it with the general public. I’d really appreciate any feedback you can give me. And I’d like to apologize for always asking you all to do this for me. It’s just nice to get some feedback when you have something new, you know?

I’d also like to thank those of you who have already given me your critiques. It really helped me to make the site better and work out some bugs. I also need to thank Tony for being my own personal graphics and logo designer, and Chason for being my own personal copy editor. I really appreciate everyone’s help. Hopefully this site will finally start to pay off and I can find some writing gigs when I get home.



I have been waiting for this day ever since about September, when I heard Sophie Kinsella was coming out with a new book. Granted, the story line is a bit played out when it comes to romantic comedies – the story of a girl who loses her memory and realizes her forgotten life isn’t worth remembering – but I’m sure Kinsella has added her usual humor to make this another best seller for her. Even though the book is out today, I have to wait a couple more weeks to buy it because it’s not available in Europe yet.

Although I’m not usually a huge fan of Chick Lit – in fact, Kinsella is the only Chick Lit author I’ve read and liked – I’ve found a book blog that focuses only on girly books. So, if this is a genre that interests you, or if you want something girly without it being a steamy romance novel, check out the Candy Covered Books blog.

In My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult brings to life the questions of stem cell research and genetic engineering through the book’s main character, Anna, and her family. Anna, at age 13 has given bone marrow, stem cells and blood to her older sister Kate. And now her parents are asking her to give Kate a kidney as well. After all, it’s what Anna was born to do.

When Kate was diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia at age 3, her parents decided to have another child, genetically engineered to be a match to Kate and hopefully to save Kate’s life.

Now, 13 years later, Anna is tired of being a pin cushion and is seeking legal action to keep her parents from making her give a kidney – which may save Kate, but puts Anna’s life in danger.

When I first heard about this book, I couldn’t understand how anybody wouldn’t do everything possible to try to save a family member, but after reading this book I felt I really understood how that type of decision could be made, although it would be difficult. Picoult does an amazing job of showing this from everyone’s perspective, including the defending lawyer’s position.

There were a few cheesy parts in there, and some predictable story lines, but for the most part I found this book to be a well-written and captivating read. And it made me cry, a lot, so it gets a high rating. Also, I found it difficult to believe that Anna was only 13 in the book. Her thoughts and actions seemed much more mature than that of any 13-year-old I’ve ever met. It was the one thing that kept stopping me throughout the book, but I just had to accept it and move on.

All in all I really liked this book. It got me to think about a subject I’ve never given much thought to. It also really made me think about what it must be like to be a parent trying to save a child with leukemia, and it made me wonder at what point they should give up.

Other blog reviews of this book:
Dog Ear Diary

Tony’s cousin and her fiance came to Paris this weekend so we spent a couple days playing tour guide. It was actually really fun, except we learned that we don’t know a lot about the city. Harry was constantly asking us how old things were or when they were built and we just had to guess most of the time. We were actually pretty accurate for guesstimating, but it made me wish I had a bit more time here so I could learn more of the history of the city.

One of the things we did as tourists was climb the Eiffel Tower.

We decided to take the stairs for two reasons:

1. It’s way cheaper (4 euros instead of 11,50)
2 And the line is way shorter.

I can understand why the line is shorter. Even I, the half-marathon runner, was trying to beg out of climbing up the stairs. It’s a daunting view. But it turns out there are only 700 stairs to the second floor and it’s way easier than I had expected. At the second level you can buy a second ticket (3,70 euros) for the elevator to the top. I think this is even the case for the people who buy elevator tickets from the beginning, so we still saved about 7 euros by not taking the elevator from the bottom. And we saved about three hours by not waiting in the ridiculously long lines.

Here’s us taking a break on the stairs:

Being on top of the Eiffel Tower was just as cool as I remembered it being. My favorite part is the observation room circling the elevator at the very top. Near the ceiling, all the way around, is a backlit panel with flags from all over the world and the distance it is from the Eiffel Tower to that point. When you are facing a country’s flag, you are also facing the direction to that country. I learned that Los Angeles is actually farther from Paris than Brazil. In case you were curious, Los Angeles is 9,600 km from here. That’s a lot of km if you ask me. (It’s about 6,000 miles).

I still miss home, but I’ll be seeing you guys super soon.

And one last gratuitous picture of La Tour Eiffel:

Photo by the always amazing Anton Weaver.

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