In July 1999, an American mama named Rebecca Ramsey moved to France with her husband, baby, seven-year-old boy, nine-year-old daughter, and their aging cat. Her family stayed in the Auvergne for four years, and I'm grateful that she later crafted her family's experiences into a humorous and endearing memoir entitled French By Heart (published in 2007). After all, there are plenty of memoirs about expat life in France, but few of them reflect the experience of an American family with young children truly attempting to assimilate into French life over the course of several years.
Rebecca focuses her stories around characters and key events rather than writing a completely chronological retelling, making this book a good fit for time-strapped readers like me who can only read a chapter or two at a time. The stories have such tidy, fitting ends that I sometimes doubted their truth, but Rebecca's honest humility comes through, particularly when she shares her most embarrassing moments and when she elaborates on her desire to have a true French friend rather than just expat friends.
Much of the novel focuses on Rebecca's tenuous relationship with a grandmotherly neighbor who spends too much time observing and critiquing Rebecca's family, but this same neighbor enlightens Rebecca quite a bit on French viewpoints while forging a forthright (if blunt) friendship.
From the day Rebecca and her family arrive in France and realize they need to buy their cat a litter box immediately, French by Heart recounts a journey of humorous situations and cultural experiences that takes us closer to the heart of what it's like for a young, motivated American family to assimilate into French life.
Have you read a good travel memoir lately?
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