Book on France

Aug 16th, 2000, 07:03 PM
  #1  
Paris Bound
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Book on France

Anyone have a suggestion about a novel, or series of novels, on the history of France, particularly from 1750 thru mid 1900's? I would prefer a novel, rather than a history textbook type. We'll be going to France in November, and would like to be better informed on their history to better understand what we're seeing and just to understand the people. I just don't remember all the details from high school or college World History....Thanks in advance.
 
Aug 16th, 2000, 07:49 PM
  #2  
elvira
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Les Miserables, Tale of Two Cities, Desiree, A Moveable Feast, anything by Colette or Moliere, Maigret mysteries, City of Darkness City of Light, Camille, the stories of Guy de Maupassant. Some will give you history, some will give you the feel of the country.
 
Aug 16th, 2000, 09:19 PM
  #3  
Al
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William L. Shirer's "Fall of the Third Republic" tells it all in a way that few Frenchmen alive today know. See the film "Shoah" -- how some Frenchmen worked hand in glove with the Nazis. Visit the memorial behind the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris and learn what happened to those who were "deported."
 
Aug 17th, 2000, 05:01 AM
  #4  
elaine
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What Elvira said, plus if you are interested in Paris in the 1920s
("the lost generation", Hemingway, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, etc) I loved the rather small book called
"Living Well is the Best Revenge" by Tomkins. It is a sort of memoir/biography of Gerald and Sara Murphy, who were at the center of the American art and literary community in Paris in the 20s. It isn't a novel, but quite an easy read.
I am also a special fan of The Count of Monte Cristo, by Dumas. It gives you adventure, politics, romance, and an almost super-hero with a secret identity. Ditto the much shorter
"Scarlet Pimpernel" which can be read in a weekend, but that one is less of a literary achievement.
 
Aug 17th, 2000, 06:19 AM
  #5  
Kris
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In addition to "A Tale of Two Cities" and "Scarlet Pimpernel" which have already been mentioned, I'd recommend "A Very Long Engagement" by Sebastien Japrisot which is set during WWI (good airplane book)and "Phantom of the Opera" and "The Mystery of the Yellow Room" (also a good airplane book, although not really historical in nature), both by Gaston Leroux.

I'm not sure how the books are for these movies, but try to rent the movies "Jean de Florette", "Manon of the Spring" or "Germinal" (book by Emile Zola), all in French with subtitles. "Jean de Florette" and "Manon of the Spring" are best watched as a double header as the first movie is very sad.
 
Aug 17th, 2000, 11:02 AM
  #6  
tina
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Fantastic historical novel about the time of the french revolution is A Place of Greater Safety. Author I think is Hilary Mantel.
 
Aug 17th, 2000, 12:15 PM
  #7  
Robin
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In spite of the fact that you asked for a novel (and those are all good recommendations), A Traveler's History of France is a good nonfiction resource. It's very readable, and obviously oriented toward travelers, so if you need more than the fiction would provide, take a look.

PS-- Try to read the unabridged version of Les Miserables. Yes, it's huge, but there is more history, and the language is so wonderful.
 
Aug 17th, 2000, 11:18 PM
  #8  
Diane
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"To Dance With Kings", by Rosalind Laker. Hard to purchase, but your local library should have a copy. Novel is about the origins of Versailles. Not a 'classic' but fun reading.
 
Aug 18th, 2000, 04:32 AM
  #9  
Craig
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PB,

At this point you have a flourishing library of Francophile literature and film. It would be wrong to exclude my 2 centimes on this one:
Napoleon and His Marshals, by A.G.Macdonell (this is a history that reads like a novel -- excellently written);
Web of Gold, by Guy Patton and Robbin Mackness (delves into the story about the Nights Templar and impacts on French politics -- a bit wierd);
England Expects, by Dudly Pope (kind of a stretch as it is about Nelson defeating the combined fleet at Trafalgar, but a great read about how history was made and a "day in the life" for sailors at the time).

I hope someone from the Fodors web reads one of these someday.
 
Aug 18th, 2000, 07:19 AM
  #10  
Karen
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Wow! Thanks for all the great information. I'm headed to the library this afternoon!!
 
Aug 18th, 2000, 09:08 AM
  #11  
dan woodlief
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Some have been named, but my favorites include Les Miserables (its a long one), A Tale of Two Cities, The Price of Glory by Alistair Horne (about the battle of Verdun, a key to understanding the French mindset of the interwar period - a history that doesn't read like a history), The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (but really this is mostly medieval except for whatever political views of Hugo's that were thrown in and the connection with the 19th century restoration of the cathedral), Germinal by Emile Zola (fantastic unless you are very clautrophobic), The Red and the Black by Stendhal, Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert, War and Peace (a little hard to read before November and a little more Russian than French, but still anything about Napoleon is great for understanding France in the 19th century), The Life of a Simple Man by Emile Guillaumin (the story of peasant life in early 19th to early 20th century from the perspective of a fictional character (short and superb social historical novel), and The American by Henry James (the story of a wealthy American businessman traveling in late 19th century Europe - falls in love with a French lady in a declining noble family - a little mystery involved, good travel tales, and interesting clash of cultures). If I may add a couple of history books to accompany the novels: Napoleon by Felix Marham (small and not too long) and France in Modern Times by Gordon Wright (a standard text for the period leading up to the Revolution through much of the 20th century).
 
Aug 18th, 2000, 09:36 AM
  #12  
Joe
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Elvira led off with Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, and I'd like to give it another plug. I stayed at the Hotel des Grandes Ecoles two years ago, and I remember puzzling out a marble marker on the building across the street which said in French something along the lines of "This is where we lived when we were so poor and so happy" - - their apartment bldg. when Hemingway and his first wife were in Paris in 1921. I reread the book when I got back and was charmed by it all over again. If you read it and get interested in the American expatriates, a good follow-up (with a very different take on Hemingway) is Gertrude Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.
 
Aug 18th, 2000, 10:12 AM
  #13  
elvira
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Thanks for all the good reading suggestions, especially for the 20th century stuff...

Thought of two more: The Day of the Jackal (good movie, too) and Everybody Who Was Anybody (the Stein-Picasso, etc. era in Paris).

Does anybody know of novels set in Provence, or Languedoc, or Aquitaine, etc.? Everything seems to be either Paris or wars, or a combination of those two.
 
Aug 18th, 2000, 10:37 AM
  #14  
dan woodlief
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Although they are mostly 19th century, the majority of the books I mentioned are based in the countryside wholly or partly, but I can't really remember the specific regions. I know that Germinal was in a mining region. Two-thirds have nothing to do with wars.
 
Aug 18th, 2000, 01:14 PM
  #15  
Caitlin
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Elvira, have you read Marcel Pagnol? He is the author of Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring and also the autobiographical My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle (two noverls, also made into film), but also of a bunch of other nover, some of which are definitely available in translation.
 
Aug 18th, 2000, 03:13 PM
  #16  
elaine
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caitlin
the Pagnol novels that I've been trying to find for a long time are the ones in what I believe is a trilogy about Marseilles or Nice. One of them is called "Marius" I believe, and another may be called "Fanny"--there was a film called "Fanny" with Leslie Caron years ago that was based on these books.
Have you ever found these Pagnol books?--they seem to be out of print.
 
Aug 19th, 2000, 10:11 AM
  #17  
Caitlin
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Elaine,

I haven't gone looking to buy those books myself, but have you tried alibris.com? They specialize in out-of-print books, and have about six pages of Pagnol listings, French and English, with prices and book condition listed. You could probably find at least some of them there.
 
Aug 19th, 2000, 11:11 AM
  #18  
wes fowler
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From 1925 until about 1975 (that's 50 years!) Janet Flanner recorded life in France, particularly Paris, in a series of essays, most of which appeared in the New Yorker under the heading Paris Journal. Flanner was exposed to everyone and everything that transpired in Paris during those years: politicians, authors, artists, everyday folk. She captured the aura of France and Paris with meticulous insight. All of her books should be available in a good library. A series of Paris Journals covering approximately 10 year periods is available from Amazon as is Paris was Yesterday covering the period of the late '20s and the '30s. I recommend them all highly, she was a superb, insightful writer.
 
Aug 21st, 2000, 12:47 PM
  #19  
Carol
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For fiction about French medieval life, try Zoe Oldenbourg's Massacre at Montsegur, or Cities of the Flesh (about the Albigenian crusade). The translations are a little turgid, but the novels are fascinating. Both were written in the late 50's, so try the library.
 
Aug 24th, 2000, 07:26 PM
  #20  
TBrown
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Louis XIV..The Other Side of the Sun
(by Prince Michael of Greece (Great book and you will appreciate your visit to Versailles much more). Also, "Toward the Brink", Claude Manceron. I find biographies are a great way to understand and appreciate Europeon History (e.g. Josephnine..Carolly Erickson)
 

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