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Paris to the Moon: A Family in France
Commissioned by The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik spent five years in Paris with his wife, Martha and son, Luke, writing dispatches now collected here along with previously unpublished journal entries in Paris to the Moon.
A self-described “comic-sentimental essayist”, Gopnik chose the romance of Paris in its particulars as his subject. Gopnik falls in unabashed love with what he calls Paris’s commonplace civilisation–the cafés, the little shops, the ancient carousel in the park and the small, intricate experiences that happen in such settings. But Paris can also be a difficult city to love, particularly its pompous and abstract official culture with its parallel paper universe. The tension between these two sides of Paris and the country’s general brooding over the decline of French dominance in the face of globalisation (haute couture, cooking and sex, as well as the economy, are running deficits) form the subtexts for these finely wrought and witty essays.
With his emphasis on the micro in the macro, Gopnik describes trying to get a Thanksgiving turkey delivered during a general strike and his struggle to find an apartment during a government scandal over favouritism in housing allocations. The essays alternate between reports of national and local events and accounts of expatriate family life, with an emphasis on “the trinity of late-century bourgeois obsessions: children and cooking and spectator sports, including the spectator sport of shopping.” Gopnik describes some truly delicious moments, from the rites of Parisian haute couture, to the “occupation” of a local brasserie in protest of its purchase by a restaurant tycoon, to the birth of his daughter with the aid of a doctor in black jeans and a black silk shirt, open at the front. Gopnik makes terrific use of his status as an observer on the fringes of fashionable society to draw some deft comparisons between Paris and New York (“It is as if all American appliances dreamed of being cars while all French appliances dreamed of being telephones”) and do some incisive philosophising on the nature of both. This is masterful reportage with a winning infusion of intelligence, intimacy and charm. –Lesley Reed
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