Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Finding Fontainebleau - Blog Tour Review

Rating: Very Good
Source: Blog Tour

Description:  A beguiling memoir of a childhood in 1950s Fontainebleau from the much admired New York Times bestselling author of The Piano Shop on the Left Bank.

For a young American boy in the 1950s, Fontainebleau was a sight both strange and majestic, home to a continual series of adventures: a different language to learn, weekend visits to nearby Paris, family road trips to Spain and Italy.  Then there was the chateau itself: a sprawling palace once the residence fo kings, its grounds the perfect place to play hide-and-seek.  The curiosities of the small town and the time with his family as expats left such an impression on him that thirty years later Carhart returned to France with his wife to raise their two children.  Touring Fontainebleau again as an adult, he began to appreciate its influence on French style, taste, art, and architecture.  Each trip to Fontainebleau introduces him to entirely new aspects of the chateau's history, enriching his memories and leading him to Patrick Ponsot, the head of the chateau's restoration, who becomes Carhart's guide to the hidden Fontainebleau.  What emerges is an intimiate chronicle of time and place few have experienced.  In warm, precise prose, Carhart reconstructs the wonders of his childhood as an American in postwar France, attending French schools with his brother and sisters.  His firsthand account brings to life nothing less than France in the 1950s, from the parks and museums of Paris to the rigors of French schooling to the vast chateau of Fontainebleau and its village, built, piece by piece, over many centuries.  Finding Fontainebleau is for those captivated by the French way of life, for armchair travelers, and for anyone who has ever fallen in love with a place they want to visit over and over again.  (from Goodreads)

Genre: Nonfiction - Memoir

Why I Picked This Book: I can't resist books set in post-World War II Europe and I'm fascinated by Fontainebleau

My Impression:  I love memoir style books and particularly those that talk about growing up in slightly unusual conditions.  I also love European history and books that are set in post World War II Europe.  So the fact that this book just happened to have all 3 of those made it a book I knew I had to read.  But going in I was a little worried.  I mean that's a lot of territory to cover - France in the 1950s, France now, France as Fontainebleau is being built not to mention just a story about growing up in general.  However, I found the way that the author managed to link all that together fascinating and incredibly clever.  For France of the 1950s he does focus mostly on his family and how they acclimated in a culture so different from the 1950s Virginia that they had left.  I would love a book just on Thad's mother.  She came of as an absolutely fascinating woman - practicable, unflappable, and with an extraordinary sense of humor as well as an interest in learning and exploring.  With all that she was also managing 5 children ages 12 to 2 in a completely foreign country where she didn't even speak the language at first.  She's definitely someone I would have loved to know.  The story of his childhood is fascinating and I very much enjoyed seeing the difference between French and American schools and just life in general.

The history aspect focused on French history as it related to Fontainebleau which kept it from getting to broad and unmanageable.  However, it was broad enough that I still felt like I was learning and I realized just how little of French history I know.  I mean I've heard of both Napoleons, Marie Antoinette, Louis the XVI and Louis the XIV but I don't think it ever occurred to me that there were 13 other Louis and who knows who else.  This look at the French royal family in regards to Fontainebleau gave me enough to make me curious and it's defintiely a subject I'm looking into reading more about in the future.

The modern day story line was interesting both comparing France now to the 1950s version and seeing how they treat restoration of a residence of the royal family now that there no longer is a royal family.  Seeing Fontainebleau as they are working to restore it is fascinating and it worked as a framework for going back in time to see Fontainbleau when Francois I was in residence.

I thoroughly enjoyed Finding Fontainebleau. While a memoir does tend to be a slightly slower read than a thriller or other book I tend to reach for in summer it was an absolute delight.  A read to savor.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?:  Absolutely!  I've had The Piano Shop on the Left Bake on my TBR for ages and I'll definitely be finding a copy of it soon.

Would I Recommend this Book?: Yes!  If you like memoirs and especially if you enjoy books about France this is a book that shouldn't me missed.

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  1. This is definitely right up my alley. This is a good memoir from all you've written and it's interesting how his perspective changes as he grows older. Nice review, Katherine.

  2. You know, I think I've been to Fontainebleau. I can't remember. I went to France when I was in high school, and we visited a couple castles and I think this was one of them. It was beautiful (If I'm remembering the same place!!).

  3. Well the blurb made me want to read this, and your review even more so. Postwar Europe and France in particular is fascinating, and the royal family stuff and all the upheaval there- I don't know much about that either and would like to know more. Looks like a fantastic book!

  4. I know so little about French history, but I do love the time period. I am glad you liked this one, Katherine. I will have to look for it.

  5. Katherine, you made this book sound irresistible, and I do like French history (must be my roots). It will go on my TBR list.

  6. Everyone was named Louis. There's like a thousand of them. Haha
    It does sound like a delightful book.
    I too love seeing how other people live. It's interesting to see how different way of life can be from what I know.
    Glad you loved this one!

  7. This book sounds great. The time period and setting sound really interesting. I am glad that you enjoyed it. Great review!

  8. This sounds great and I really like reading about that time era.

  9. What a lovely review - I, too, have been to Fontainbleu, although a very long time ago... Thank you for sharing:)

  10. Memoirs aren't really my thing, but must admit you have me intrigued and I love the time period Katherine.

  11. Oooo yes, this sounds interesting!

  12. It does sounds like a lot packed into one book but I love how the author all pulls it together!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  13. Reading this one this week so I skimmed but I'm glad to see you enjoyed it so much!