Sunday, January 01, 2006

Almost French and remembering (and facing) the past


I recommend Almost French: A New Life in Paris , a memoir by journalist Sarah Turnbull. It is one of the best books I have read in a long time. All the clich├ęs apply: I couldn’t put it down; I lost track of time while reading; etc. Turnbull writes about her first years of living in Paris, where she still lives. You may love Paris or know nothing about it – no matter because her story is simply a good story. She moved to Paris in an uncharacteristically whimsical way, fell in love, built a freelance journalist career, and faced culture clashes (she is Australian). Her writing is so real, clear and uncontrived.

More than recommending the book, I admit it has further inspired me to write my own memoir (if it turns out to be that – it is mostly theoretical). Mine is a very different story, that of my freshman year in high school from 1985 to 1986 in Brooklyn, NY.

But I face some of her same issues, primarily of remembering or facing, really feeling, that past time. In her prologue, Turnbull writes,

“Those early difficult years in France seem a lifetime ago now, as though they were lived by someone else. So much has changed since then, including me, probably. The truth is, when I started to write this book I had trouble taking myself back to that time. I don’t know why it should have been so difficult. Either I’d forgotten or subconsciously didn’t want to remember or, being a journalist, I was paralyzed by the idea of writing in the first person. Probably a combination of all three.” (pp. ix-x)

I feel I could have written those words about much of my past. It is indeed a combination of all three. Turnbull conveys the difficulties so darn well.

My mother saved my journals from that time, and I am sure I kept one during my freshman year. But now I can only find those from the summer following that school year onwards. I’ll either have to do some searching for the actual journal, or begin writing down what little seems clear – and hope more comes back to me.

And, hey, Happy New Year!

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