Wednesday, July 27, 2016
Finding Fontainebleau: An American Boy In France by Thad Carhart
Published May 2016 by Viking
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review
The adventures of Carhart and his family—his NATO officer father, his mother, four siblings, and their dog—in the provincial town of Fontainebleau, France, in the 1950s. Dominating life in the town is the beautiful Château of Fontainebleau. Begun in 1137, fifty years before the Louvre and more than five hundred before Versailles, the Château was a home for Marie-Antoinette, François I, and the two Napoleons, among others, all of whom added to its splendors without appreciably destroying the work of their predecessors.
Carhart takes readers along as he and his family experience the pleasures and particularities of French life: learning the codes and rules of a French classroom where wine bottles dispense ink, camping in Italy and Spain, tasting fresh baguettes. Readers see post-war life in France as never before, from the parks and museums of Paris (much less crowded in the 1950s, when you could walk through completely empty galleries in the Louvre) to the quieter joys of a town like Fontainebleau, where everyday citizens have lived on the edges of history since the 12th century and continue to care for their lieux de mémoire—places of memory.
Intertwined with stories of France’s post-war recovery are profiles of the monarchs who resided at Fontainebleau throughout the centuries and left their architectural stamp on the palace and its sizeable grounds. Carhart finds himself drawn back as an adult, eager to rediscover the town of his childhood. FINDING FONTAINEBLEAU imagines a bright future for this important site of French cultural heritage, as Carhart introduces us to the remarkable group of architects, restorers, and curators who care for and refashion the Château’s hundreds of rooms for a new generation of visitors. Guided by Patrick Ponsot, head of the Château’s restoration programs, the author takes us behind the scenes and shows us a side of the Château that tourists never see.
I gotta be honest with you on two scores.
Number one, I haven't finished the book. Too much going on on television the past couple of weeks for much reading. But I'm well on my way to done and feel like I've got a pretty good grasp on this sucker at this point. Unless, in the last fifty pages, Carhart suddenly resurrects one of the French kings or something, I doubt will be an ending that really knocks the book out of the park and makes me so angry I want to throw the book across the room.
Number two, I had some misgivings going into this book for a couple of reasons. I had mixed feelings about his last book, Across The Endless River, which was one of the first book I ever reviewed for review when I started blogging. And the description of this one both intrigued and worried me - all interesting ingredients, but would there be too much going on?
Not to worry. There is a lot going on in this book but I am really enjoying all angles from which Carhart comes at Fontainebleau. Seriously, a 1950's American family with five children end up living in a French manse right on the edge of the Chateau de Fontainebleau? It's like something out of a Doris Day movie without pratfalls and a laugh track. I can really picture Carhart and his family as they explore their little neck of the new woods and beyond, get used to new customs, and acclimate themselves to a whole new way of life. But then, I am learning so much about French history, the region, and the way this unique Chateau evolved. I'm bound to find myself digging more into the kings and the times they lived in. And...you can't help but be impressed with France's devotion to the restoration and maintenance of this piece of their history, their devotion to caring for all of their heritage. Especially when you live in a town where it feels as though historically significant buildings are being torn down daily (albeit not nearly as historically significant!).
Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. I'm so glad I took a chance on this book! For other reviews, check out the full tour.
Twenty-six years ago THAD CARHART moved to Paris with his wife and two infant children. He lives there now, with frequent visits to New York and Northern California. His first book, The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, appeared in 2000, published by Random House. Across the Endless River, a historical novel, came out in 2009 with Doubleday. Connect with Thad Website | Facebook | Twitter