From the Fifteenth District by Mavis Gallant – Blog Tour & Giveaway!

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“A woman can always get some practical use from a torn-up life, Gabriel decided. She likes mending and patching it, making sure the edges are straight. She spreads the last shred out and takes its measure: ‘What can I do with this remnant? How long does it need to last?’ A man puts on his life ready-made. If it doesn’t fit, he will try to exchange it for another. Only a fool of a man will try to adjust the sleeves or move the buttons; he doesn’t know how.”

From the Fifteenth District by Mavis Gallant
Published December 16, 2014 by Open Road Integrated Media
Historical Fiction/Short Stories
Format: e-book; 228 pages
Also By This Author: Varieties of Exile, The Cost of Living
Goodreads | Amazon Barnes & Noble | Apple iBookstore

Synopsis:

Even as we grow and change, the consequences of what we have left behind often linger.

Mavis Gallant has a unique talent for distilling the sense of otherness one feels abroad into something tangible and utterly understandable. In this collection, she relates the stories of those stranded in relationships, places, and even times in which they don’t belong.

In “The Moslem Wife” a woman is entrusted to look after a hotel in France when her husband is trapped in America after the breakout of World War II. As the situation progresses, the two grow in surprising and profound ways. In another tale, a German prisoner of war is released from France and returns home to a mother whose personality has been as irrevocably changed by the war as his has. In one of the most poignant entries, Gallant follows the life of a Holocaust survivor, illustrating how his experiences tint his outlook on life forty years later.

With its wide breadth of subject matter and the author’s characteristic way with nuance, From the Fifteenth District is classic Mavis Gallant.

Thoughts:

This was my first time reading anything by Mavis Gallant, and because of that, I was not expecting her writing style. These aren’t stories that you can breeze through; you really have to take the time to digest everything because Gallant writes with some truly beautiful figurative language. The quote I cited at the beginning of this post is an example of the type of metaphors she uses throughout the nine stories included in this collection. Each story focuses on a different character living in Europe during the WWII era. Although these characters do not connect with each other, their stories all share the same themes and tones, the most poignant being a sense of otherness the characters can all relate to.

One of the stories that particularly stood out to me was “The Four Seasons,” which follows Carmela, a young Italian girl living with an American family. She does not speak English very well and thus feels separated from her housemates. Even when she does gain a better understanding of the language, she pretends not to because by that point she has become too withdrawn from the family to develop an authentic relationship with them. I could relate to Carmela’s situation. When I was living in France, it was sometimes easier for me to pretend I was ignorant of the French conversations going on around me because that was easier to cope with than the awkwardness of cultural differences. Each of the other characters in Gallant’s stories face this same type of displacement; some feel a distance from the people around them, others feel dislocated from their physical surroundings.

Read This Book If…:

…you enjoy short stories collections.
…you like stories that can be read in one sitting but continue to stay with you long after you’ve finished reading them.
…you feel drawn to historical fiction, especially fiction that takes place during WWII.
…you’re touched more by books that are theme-driven instead of plot-driven.

Final Musings

From the 15th district banner

I’m reviewing From the Fifteenth District as part of a blog tour hosted by France Book Tours. Please click on the banner to read other reviews as well as an excerpt of the book.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

From the 15th district Mavis GallantIn 1952 Mavis Gallant (1922–2014) left a successful career as a journalist in Montreal to live independently as a writer of fiction in Europe. She had gained international recognition in 1951 when she was published in the New Yorker, which in subsequent years released over one hundred of her short stories, most of which are set in European cities or Montreal. Random House published twelve volumes of her work. Gallant was awarded the 1981 Governor General’s Award for Home Truths, the 2002 Rea Award for the Short Story, and the 2004 PEN/Nabokov Award for lifetime achievement. She was a companion of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest honor. After traveling widely in Europe, in 1960 Gallant settled in Paris, where she died in 2014. The Journals of Mavis Gallant: 1952–1969 is tentatively scheduled for publication by Alfred A. Knopf in 2015.

GIVEAWAY

Click on Entry-Form to enter the giveaway:

Entry-Form

Visit each blogger on the tour:
tweeting about the giveaway everyday of the Tour
will give you 5 extra entries each time!
[just follow the directions on the entry-form]

US only giveaway:
your choice of kindle/epub of this book

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The Beautiful American by Jeanne Mackin – Blog Tour & GIVEAWAY!

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“Some memories, the more you talk about them, the stronger they become.”

The Beautiful American by Jeanne Mackin
Published June 3, 2014 by New American Library/Penguin
Historical Fiction
Format: paperback; 352 pages
Cover Appeal: A
Also From This Author: The Sweet By and By, The Frenchwoman
Goodreads | Amazon | Website
My Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:

As recovery from World War II begins, expat American Nora Tours travels from her home in southern France to London in search of her missing daughter. There, she unexpectedly meets up with an old acquaintance, famous model-turned-photographer Lee Miller. Neither has emerged from the war unscathed. Nora is racked with the fear that her efforts to survive under the Vichy regime may have cost her daughter’s life. Lee suffers from what she witnessed as a war correspondent photographing the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.

Nora and Lee knew each other in the heady days of late 1920’s Paris: when Nora was giddy with love for her childhood sweetheart, Lee became the celebrated mistress of the artist Man Ray, and Lee’s magnetic beauty drew them all into the glamorous lives of famous artists and their wealthy patrons. But Lee fails to realize that her friendship with Nora is even older, that it goes back to their days as children in Poughkeepsie, New York, when a devastating trauma marked Lee forever.

A novel of freedom and frailty, desire and daring, The Beautiful American portrays the extraordinary relationship between two passionate, unconventional women.

Thoughts

This novel brought on so many nostalgic feelings! One of my favorite things about reading novels set in France is all the cultural references I get to latch on to. I like reading about a city or cuisine or French habit and being able to say, “Yes! I know exactly what that is.” I’ve read some books set in France that had too many cultural and French language errors for me to be able to enjoy reading it. The Beautiful American is not one of those books. Jeanne Mackin depicts a vividly accurate and alive portrait of France, so that it is a character as much as it is a setting.

The book starts off to a slower tempo but that really adds to the whole suspense of the novel. We know right from the beginning that Nora, our main character and American expatriate, is searching for her missing daughter, and is also hiding a torturous and heartbreaking past. Then suddenly we are presented with detailed flashbacks of a promiscuous and carefree 1920s Paris. During these earlier flashbacks I kept comparing The Beautiful American to The Great Gatsby; they both play with themes of 1920s idealism, and the suspense I mentioned earlier is strengthened by the foreboding knowledge that everything is about to come crashing down. Once it finally does, you cannot put this book down until you know how it ends.

I was happy, and nothing in the world can make you oblivious to your surroundings like happiness.

As far as historical fiction novels go, this one is captivating and inspiring. Nora and her celebutante childhood friend are bold and courageous characters who witness some true horrors from the WWII era. As a warning to anyone interested in reading this book, there is some mild sex and violence that is unsettling but not explicit.

If you are a fan of historical fiction that feels real and intense, The Beautiful American will no doubt be an enjoyable novel for you! You’ll feel like you’ve been transported to WWII era France even if you’ve never been to France before in your life :)

Read This Book If…:

…you love France!
…you enjoy reading historical fiction that takes place in Europe during WWII
…you like The Great Gatsby (it has that same 1920s idealism that you just know is about to collapse)
…you’re longing for a book that will captivate you even after you’ve turned the last page

Final Musings

FranceBookTours I’m reviewing The Beautiful American as part of a blog tour hosted by France Book Tours. Please click on the banner to see a list of other bloggers participating in the tour!

Praise for The Beautiful American

“Readers will rank [it] right up there with The Paris Wife…. A brilliant, beautifully written literary masterpiece…”–New York Times bestselling author Sandra Dallas

“Will transport you to expat Paris… and from there take you on a journey through the complexities of a friendship…breathes new life into such luminaries as Man Ray, Picasso, and, of course, the titular character, Lee Miller, while at the same time offering up a wonderfully human and sympathetic protagonist in Nora Tours.”–Suzanne Rindell, author of The Other Typist

“Achingly beautiful and utterly mesmerizing… Sure to appeal to fans of Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife and Erika Robuck’s Call Me Zelda, or indeed to anyone with a taste for impeccably researched and beautifully written historical fiction.”– Jennifer Robson, author of Somewhere in France

“Beautiful…A fascinating account of a little-known woman who was determined to play by her own rules.”–Historical Novel Society

unnamedABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeanne Mackin is the author of several historical novels set in France, and has earned awards for her journalism
as well as a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society. She lives in upstate New York with her husband, cats and herd of deer, and is still trying to master the French subjunctive.

Visit her website.
Follow Jeanne Mackin on Twitter  | Facebook

Buy the book on Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Books a Million | Google Play | iBookstore | Indiebound | Powells

GIVEAWAY

Click here to enter a giveaway for Jeanne Mackin’s The Beautiful American. Five copies will be given away to US/Canada residents only.

Carte de Séjour & God’s Faithfulness!

This is a post about God’s faithfulness. It’s also a post about how stressful living in a foreign country can be, but mostly it’s about how God really shows you when He wants you somewhere.

Most of you reading this probably do not know all about how I came to live in France. Long story short: my husband is French, and when we got engaged we kind of procrastinated on the fiancé visa, therefore we had to come up with other alternatives on how to legally get married. Moving to France a month after our wedding was actually the most practical and flexible way to go, since Matt could work and we would both be able to travel internationally. Fast-forward a year later to this past May: Matt has been approved for his green card and we are finishing up paperwork for that, he has a job he loves, I am much more adapted to living in France and, although I am by no means bilingual, I can now speak and understand a decent amount of French, and we enjoy spending time with our family and friends here. However, in June my visa was due to expire and I discovered two weeks in advance that I should have gone to renew it/apply for my carte de séjour three months before the expiration date! (Aside: a carte de séjour is the equivalent to an American green card) This was because I foolishly expected OFFI, the immigration organization I had been contacted by when I first moved here, to contact me again about it. But no, I now needed to get myself to the Prefecture ASAP, and for you Americans who are unfamiliar with the Prefecture, it is the DMV on steroids (you go there for identification cards and driver’s licenses, because they are not the same here, car-paperwork, green cards, work permits, basically anything related to immigration, and I even think associations have to register at the Prefecture as well). Imagine that your local DMV looks like The New York Stock Exchange on the inside, with people everywhere, numbers being announced on screens and intercoms, babies crying, you get the idea… (I kid, I kid…that’s just a little Dark Knight Rises humor for ya).

Anyway, after I realized the gravity of my situation, I panicked. I have never been one to react calmly in dire situations: I either avoid dealing with it, or I panic. However, over the past 5 or so years God has really been helping me to trust Him instead of panicking, and so, after my initial 10-second breakdown, I immediately had the urge to pray. And for the next three days I prayed HARD. I found all this out on a Monday, and we couldn’t go to the Prefecture until Thursday, so I had three days to either worry myself into developing an ulcer, or to fervently pray, fast, and seek God. And let me just say, for anyone with doubts: never underestimate the power of prayer. The Bible says:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 4:6-7

By the end of that Monday, I had already begun to feel this supernatural peace over myself and my visa situation. I had confidence in that fact that, no matter what happened, whether I was able to renew my visa or not, that God’s will would be done, and that’s what I prayed for. I could have simply prayed out, “God, PLEASE allow me to get my carte de séjour!” but I wanted more than that. I prayed, “God, if it is YOUR WILL (remember Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane? “Not as I will, but as You will.”), please allow me to get my carte de séjour…” And from that moment on I knew God was there no matter what the outcome.

Before I get back to what happened at the Prefecture on that Black Thursday (Ok, ok, that’s my last Stock Exchange joke), I have to say something about fasting, because I didn’t just pray unceasingly that week, I also fasted. Last semester during one of our Remix meetings (Remix is the student ministry we are involved with here in Grenoble), we discussed fasting. I came to understand that it is not depriving ourselves of things to please God, but it’s an act of expressing to God that we want Him more than anything else. And I just love that image, and so I fasted that week to express to God that, above all else, I wanted His will to be done, even if that meant I would have to go back to the U.S.

And I should tell you the list of things I prayed for before I went (and even during my visit) to the Prefecture:

  • That I would be able to receive my carte de sejour
  • That I would have all of the documents I needed
  • That I would at least be seen by someone (I read that in Paris, you can wait all day and not even be seen before closing time)
  • That the employees would be friendly, helpful, and compassionate (people with prior experience at the Prefecture or even the DMV, feel free to laugh)
  • That I would not have to pay any extra fees for being late
  • That Matt would be able to return to work in the afternoon (he only took half a day off, and he still had things to get done for a meeting the following day)
  • That my sister-in-law would be able to find someone to watch my niece for me while I was still waiting (I babysit her two afternoons a week, while her parents are at work)
  • That we would not get a parking ticket (because our meter expired ~20 minutes before we left)

So we arrived at the Prefecture at 9:15am, just fifteen minutes after opening time, and we were already #44 in line. I brought a book to keep me entertained during the wait, but all I could really do was look around and continue to pray for everything to go smoothly. Finally, after 5 long hours, we were seen, and let me spoil everything for you readers by saying that EVERYTHING ON MY PRAYER LIST WAS ANSWERED. EVERYTHING.

The agent who met with us was very friendly (what!?), and even compassionate because–and here’s the most amazing part of the story–although we were missing a couple of proofs of residency, she let us mail them to her after our visit. When does something like that ever happen? When can you go to the DMV, not having adequate proof of residency, and STILL get your driver’s license? I did not have to pay any extra fees, I was not declared to be a “situation irrégulière” (which could cause problems if/when I want to become a dual citizen)…I was given my récépissé (basically a temporary card that lasts for 3 months) and told I might have to come back and get it renewed if my actual carte de sejour does not arrive in time.

And on top of all that amazing news, my sister-in-law was able to find someone to cover babysitting for me (because if not, I guess she would have had to miss work or we would have had to leave the Prefecture early?), Matt did get to work later than he wished, but it turns out he didn’t have much to do after all, AND, although our parking meter had expired nearly half an hour before we left the Prefecture, there was no ticket (although there was an ad for a florist stuck in the wipers that nearly gave me a heart attack).

This all happened at the end of May, and yesterday I went back to renew my récépissé and it turns out that my actual card was ready and I only had to wait 45 minutes to pick it up and pay the 106€ fee (which is still cheaper than the American green card fees we’re paying for Matt)!

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Finally! I no longer have to carry my passport around! AND, it’s much smaller than a regular French ID card as well! Much more practical.

And what did I learn from all of this? That God is faithful. That He provides. That if He wants you to be somewhere (like France), He will make it happen (by bestowing upon you more than enough grace). That there is NO prayer request too little, too insignificant, too impossible that He will not hear. That prayer and fasting are powerful, and they deepen our relationship with God. That the French system is not as scary and unforgiving as the internet will have you believe. And lastly, I finally realized that God wants us here in France, and although we were planning on being  back in the States by Christmastime, I think we’ll be holding off on that for a little while :)

So there you have it. I know this was long, but I hope it was entertaining and inspiring enough. And for anyone who is in the process of getting their own carte de séjour, please feel free to ask me any questions about my experience, or even for my advice (but definitely do things a lot sooner than I did!).