Sunday, October 21, 2012

Review: C'est la Vie by by Suzy Gershman

I read C'est la Vie after finishing Paris in Love, because it was a recommended read on my Nook.  In this memoir, Suzy Gershman, most well known for her Born to Shop book, writes about her experience moving to Paris after the death of her beloved husband, and all the trials and tribulations of being an American in Paris.

This was one of those books that had me reeling from the start.  As in, I was extremely annoyed.  Not everything annoyed me, which is why I enjoyed the book enough to finish it.  The main thing is that Gershman moved to Paris just months after her husbands death, and left her college-aged son alone back in the States.  What??!  I was about her sons age when my own father died, and I needed my mom near me.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I understand that she needed to think about herself too.  I understand that she needed to get away to try and heal.  But come on.  Wait until the 1 year anniversary has passed.  Because that first year is the hardest.  And I know she had her son come to France for Christmas and everything, but just no.  And the book basically started like that, so right away I wasn't a huge fan.

Another con of the book, at least for me, is that I felt like I was stupid half the time while reading it.  At times I felt like she was my kindergarten teacher.  After every single French word, there was a translation.  Which I mean, I do understand that, because not everyone knows French.  What really got to me though was that often times after these translations, she would like phonetically spell out the word so that we would know how to pronounce it.  I know how to pronounce them.  I know some people don't, so many readers might actually like that she does this.  But for me personally, it was really annoying.

Okay, so now on to the positives.  Which there were a lot of, despite what you may be thinking after reading the above.  Because Suzy is a shopping writer to begin with and has travelled all over the world for her columns/books, this book was filled with amazing information on shopping in France.  There was some info on just shopping in Paris in general, and all the interesting and weird things that have in the stores for different seasons.  But if you want info on shopping for housewares and things you need if you are planning on living in France for the longterm, this book is amazing and has your info!  If I ever move to France longterm, I am bringing this book with me and using Suzy's recommendations. 

Suzy also did a super awesome job at describing the woes of moving to France, like how hard it is for an American without a student visa or "real" job to find an apartment.  Suzy did freelance stuff, so it was at times hard I think for her to prove to potential landlords that she could pay.  So she had to give a huge downpayment.  On an apartment!  Though this might be pretty standard in Paris.  Also, buying furniture, how to get big items into apartments with narrow hallways (you can actually rent a lift, and workers will literally lift the furniture through your window, because windows in old Paris apartments are often quite big).  She had all sorts of issues with getting her appliances and phone to work, and it is definitely good to read if you are thinking about moving abroad.  They don't have the same things that we do.

Another pro is that I learned for the first time of a few fairs and markets and whatnot that I definitely want to check out someday.  The one I realllyyyyy want to go to is the Chatou Ham Fair.  It sounds awesome.

So, to top all of the awesome bits off, Suzy included a huge appendix at the end of the book that is filled with amazing info.  In the book, we hear about all her issues with renting an apartment, etc., but then towards the end, she decides to start looking for a house.  The appendix has tons of details about the actual process of renting or buying a house.  And buying a house in France is a lot of work and a lot of waiting.  So I think that the appendix itself makes up for some of the things I didn't like about this book.

So, in conlcusion, I probably would have liked this book a lot more if I hadn't just finished Paris in Love.  That author had a writing style and personality and humor that I connected with immediately. Also I felt much more like I was in Paris in that book, because the author writes about Paris like it is a character all its own. In this book, we read what is happening to Gershman, not really the city around her. So some people might prefer this book, but if you want to feel like you're in Paris, read Paris in Love. Not that I'm trying to compare the two. I just think my huge love for Paris in Love may have affected my opinion of this book.

And it's amazing how much you can write in a book review when you have equal parts pro and equal parts con!  I haven't really read any books lately that gave me so much to talk about.  Thank you for sticking with me and reading the whole thing :)

And now for some favorite quotes:

Page 53: One day she asked me if I was married.

"Je suis veuve," I told her. I am a widow.
"Merde," she said. Shit.
Of all the things ever said to me when my husband became ill or died, that was the single best response...and all anyone really ever had to say.

Page 53: an awesome trick that I need to remember: "to change Celsius to Fahrenheit, double the temperature then add thirty."

Page 86: The pace of life in France is different. For me, used to a rather hectic American day, it was a relief when I slowed down and actually enjoyed my life in the French style. I had been the person who ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich over the keyboard. I never had time to cook; my family survived on take-out, fast food, Boston Chicken and lamp chops on Sunday nights. Suddenly meals and social life were the most important parts of my days. Yes, more important that my work. In France they were the anchors to a day and to a lifetime. In  United States, we rarely made time for our friends and the people we cared most about-and they understood this, or said they did, because they were in the same jam. In France nothing was more important.

Page 88: I think there is a place in the greiving process where you suddenly move forward a giant step; with this move comes some sort of self-improvement phase. I imagine it is the acceptance that you are going to live after all, that as much as you wished it, the earth was unable to open and swallow you, that you are forced to go on...and that to go on requires strength.-----so true

Title: C'est la Vie: An American Woman Begins a New Life in Paris and-Voila!-Becomes Almost French
Author: Suzy Gershman
Date of Publication: May 31st, 2005
Number of Pages: 272
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Source: Personal Copy


  1. I like the sound of this, but think I will follow your advice and try Paris in Love first.

  2. I'm actually reading this book right now! (I'm on page 74.) The shopping advice and the prices is what is getting to me, so much so it's feeling like a shopping instruction manual at this point, but I'm hoping for a little more "life" talk further on. And that "merde" quote is my favorite so far as well.

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