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C'est la Vie: An American Conquers the City of Light, Begins a New Life, and Becomes--Zut Alors!--Almost French Paperback – January 19, 2004

3.4 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the grand tradition of packing up and moving to Paris in the midst of a major life change, Gershman sets off for the City of Light seeking solace after the death of her husband. The 50-something author of Frommer's Born to Shop series had been to Paris many times and knew a handful of Parisians in the fashion, food and hotel businesses. But she spoke minimal French and was used to having a man handle tasks like changing light bulbs and having furniture delivered. In mini-essays and unadorned prose, Gershman relates her bumbles as she deals with finding an apartment, meeting friends, doing work, dating and, alas, changing light bulbs. The result is a book that's almost as much about learning to live on one's own after the death of a spouse as it is about moving to France. Gershman, who'd previously lived in a quaint southern Connecticut town, marvels over things she deems particularly Frenchal-though they could really happen anywhere. For example, her apartment's cable TV connection works, even though she didn't sign up for the service. Her French friends counsel her not to mention it to the cable company and to enjoy the extra channels. Gershman finds this "cheat-if-you-can" policy uniquely French. She treats other experiences similarly, e.g., going to different vendors for different culinary needs, or being sucked in to buying innovative products you never thought you might need. Nonetheless, Gershman's love for Paris is infectious, and her memoir sheds light on one version of expatriate living.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

After Gershman and her husband had planned a one-year move to Paris, her husband was diagnosed with cancer and died quickly. Gershman decided the best way for her to cope was to go ahead with the move, and, six weeks after her husband's death, she found herself in France. This account of her experience there combines travel-book tips with midlife coming-of-age. Gershman, who works as a professional shopper and writes the Born to Shop travel series, uses her expertise to make the most of trips to flea markets, department stores, and outlet shops. Anyone interested in living in France will file away the tips she dispenses, including where to look for bed linens and what to bring from home. Gershman had some advantages (semifamous friends in France, for example, whose names are dropped frequently), but even so, she displays great tenacity in plunging into a new experience after a tremendous loss (and while learning a new language at age 52). A good choice for the Under the Tuscan Sun crowd. Beth Leistensnider
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (January 19, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670032697
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670032693
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,569,661 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
I'm a sucker for the move-to-Paris (Provence, Tuscany, Spain, etc.) genre, with one caveat. I like the stories where the writer has actually moved to Paris or wherever, and is not just buying a summer home and expects to become a native. In other words, I liked A Year in Provence, and was not so fond of Under the Tuscan Sun.
In C'est la Vie, Suzy Gershman has indeed sold her house in the States and moved to Paris. She is newly widowed, which adds a slightly different twist to this story. Gershman tells how she managed to get an apartment and furniture, how she dealt with the French bureaucaracy without speaking much French, how she coped with losing her husband, and how she got back into the dating game. She keeps an upbeat attitude in spite of all the obstacles and becomes, as an acquaintance tells her, "almost French."
C'est la Vie has everything going for it, and yet, I feel as if I should have enjoyed it more than I did. Granted, I was not aware of Gershman's Born to Shop series of books, so I ended up skimming the frequent and detailed shopping interludes. Apparently, she is also a celebrity of sorts, so she does a bit of name-dropping. She doesn't flinch at popping for regular trips to London to have her hair and nails done, so I'm afraid we run in different economic circles.
C'est la Vie reads more like a fantasy than like a travel memoir. I guess I was expecting to identify with Gershman, but after the affair with the wealthy Count, the New Year's Eve assignation with a handsome Italian at the Ritz, the purchase of a summer home in Provence. . .
Although I did enjoy C'est la Vie, I also recommend Almost French by Sarah Turnbull. It's written by an Australian journalist who travels to Paris, falls in love with a French man, and stays. Somehow, I found her story much more real.
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I suppose some widowed women could afford to move to Paris and live the kind of privileged life that Gershman enjoys...then again, not everyone has the financial resources to lead such a glamourous life.
The above is the main difficulty I had with this otherwise amusing little book. Gershman writes as though she is telling her readers "how to do it". ("It" being moving to Paris and beginning a new way of life in a new cultural environment). But I think she writes for someone other than women of "average" financial means.
Ah, well! Taken for what it is ("A Princess Diary" as another reviewer called it), Gershman's book is informative and even humorous at times. Francophiles and armchair travelers will most likely enjoy her descriptions of things French. And a few well-heeled widows may actually be able to use her book as a "how to" manual.
For the rest of us, it is an enjoyable fantasy read.
Reviewer: Linda Painchaud
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Format: Paperback
As an admitted Francophile, I loved the descriptions of Paris and the Parisians and appreciated the tips. But I was disappointed in the shallowness of the author's descriptions of her emotions following the loss of her husband of 25 years. One would think that after 25 years of marriage, her feelings might have been a little deeper than "I did not choose for my husband to die...but...I felt tinges of delight that I had the opportunity to start over". Also, I could not not help but think that anyone less connected with the famous and semi-famous (Patricia Wells and her husband were good friends) might not have had as much fun and ease.
All in all, fun to read about France and an American's experience with moving there, but not a less well-connected, more emotionally honest woman's guide to moving to Paris alone.
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Having packed up, shipped out, and lived abroad for many years, I was looking forward to enjoying this book. However, I found it not only difficult to get through, but rather cold and impersonal, which was strange because nearly every sentence begins with "I"

The first section is ALL about apartment hunting. And I mean ALL. Been there, done that, and certainly I didn't do so with such false drama and dissatisfaction. She had the advantage of having many French-speaking friends, money, including a long-standing French bank account, a familiarity with the culture, environment and language (unlike most other people, self included) but yet, she presented the whole experience as beng bothersome, with everything an inconvenience, including the offer of a friend's spare (tiny) room. (Can you say ingrate?) I was hoping for a sense of adventure and promise and fun and wonder, but instead, it all seemed so irritating to the woman.

The book plodded along in the same vein, and perhaps should be called Grumpy Old Woman Abroad. How tetchy can one get over sheets?? Publisher mentions "maddening frustrations" -- and in my view, that's about all this book portrays. I guess I'm more disappointed because, having moved out of the country, I undrestand what it can be like-- thankfully my experience was nothing like hers.

Her little rendezvous with the married man was pretty pathetic, and not something to I'd want to brag about. Or when you've lost your own husband, another woman's man fair game?

I'd stick to your basic Fodors or similar travel book for all the info you get in this... at least it would FEEL happier.
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