Review: My Paris Dream

MyParisDream

My Paris Dream: An Education in Style, Slang, and Seduction in the Great City on the Seine by Kate Betts

Published by Penguin Random House Company

RATING: 4 STARS

Kate Betts is an award-winning magazine editor and author who has held top positions at  Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. In 2003 she was named editor at large at Time magazine where she created the first globally published style supplement, Time Style & Design.

In her memoir and coming of age story, My Paris Dream, Betts recounts her experiences of living in Paris during the late eighties. After being brought up in Manhattan, and graduating from Princeton, she is anxious to escape the traditional expectations of her parents. While her friends are entering law school or working on Wall Street, Betts is determined to follow her dream and explore Paris, as she did during her boarding school summers. Betts is part of the 1% who is lucky enough to secure an internship at a Paris magazine through her godmother’s well-connected husband. She is content, but bored with her minimum wage earning job, yearning to fit into French culture while trying to find work as a fashion journalist.

During her stay with a wealthy Parisian family, she meets her boyfriend, Herve, who is from Brittany, takes her to see a costumed band of wild boar hunters tear through the forests of Brittany. After her boar-hunting article is published, John Fairchild, the publisher of Women’s Wear Daily, (who is also attended Princeton) notices it, et voilà – he hires Betts for the Paris bureau. She begins covering American “It” girls and becomes rewarded for her efforts and is initiated into the elite ranks of Mr. Fairchild ‘s influential trusted few and sat next to him in the front rows of fashion shows of top designers, such as Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent and Claude Montana.

Betts is enamored with Paris, it’s hard for her to discern if she loves the beauty of France and the French lifestyle, or is this  clouding her thinking towards her true feelings for Herves. She admires the French focus on family and the traditional August vacation over career, yet she realizes she’ll always be an outsider. Unfortunately, Herves friends are only too happy to point out her faux pas when she doesn’t follow certain “rules” of French culture. She doubts her acceptance into French culture. Homesick for New York, she decides to return home.

I can relate to her cultural experiences because I nearly moved to France in my early twenties, after being engaged to a Frenchman. I had a similar experiences of feeling like an outsider. The French will accept you as friends forever, but not as family. The French tend to make the majority of their friends when they’re young and continue the friendship into adulthood. They prefer staying with their established group of friends, over accepting new ones. .

My Paris Dream was an interesting memoir. Highly recommended for Fashionistas, or those who want an inside look into the life of a French fashion journalist.

I deducted one star due to Betts’ constant name dropping and of mentions of connections, as it took away from the focus of the coming of age theme of her memoir.

This book was provided to me by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Hausfrau

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Hausfrau

RATING: 2 STARS

 

Hausfrau begins with Anna Benz, a thirty-seven year old bored American expat housewife living in Switzerland, has a passionate affair with an  American man, while her Swiss husband works as a banker at Credit Suisse.  A series of meaningless affairs continue after her lover abandons her and returns to the United States. Anna has everything materially, yet she’s emotionally unfulfilled.

Essbaum is a skilled writer, yet Hausfrau read like a 19th century narrative trope in a modern setting. Anna is weak and feeble, paralysed to move forward and unable to overcome her fears. I couldn’t connect with her emotionally because I didn’t have a reason to care about her.

After living in Switzerland for nine years, Anna doesn’t make any attempt to assimilate into Swiss life. She doesn’t drive, she speaks a bare minimum of German and Schwiizerdütsch (Swiss-German) and she’s unable to deal with the most basic of bureaucratic paperwork –  her own residency permit. All of the family’s house related issues are managed by her husband. She’s as helpless as a Victorian housewife. During one her psychoanalysis sessions, she has an awakening when her Dr. explains her reluctance to learn German is actually a reflection of her inability to assimilate into the Swiss culture. Despite this realization, she remains frozen in fear without making any changes in her life.

I pushed to get through to the end of the novel, hoping it would get better, but it continued to drag on. The ending was predictable and anti-climatic.

* A copy of the book was provided to me by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.**