Author: Don Wallace

Publisher: Sourcebooks

ISBN-13: 978-1-4022-9331-3

Don Wallace and his wife, Mindy, are both fluent and flexible writers, with their son, Rory, (who appears on the scene slightly later) having clearly inherited their linguistic skills. When they decide to purchase a dilapidated old house in the village of Kerbordardoué, on the island of Belle-Île-en-Mer (haunt, in the past, of such celebrities as Sarah Bernhardt, and of her lover, the Prince of Wales, as well as of the writer Marcel Proust) just off the Breton coast, they little realize what they have let themselves in for. With the entire expanse of the Atlantic Ocean separating them from their home in a tiny apartment in New York, their family (and sometimes even they themselves) doubt their motives, and, at times, even their sanity, as they set about restoring the maison that, ultimately, comes to take over their entire lives, it seems.

The challenges that they encounter emanate not only from their generally straitened financial resources, but also from a certain amount of antagonism that they experience in the village itself. There is a great deal of underlying antagonism to foreigners on the island, which emerges in sundry unsavory incidents, such as the deliberate running over of a rosebush that they plant to mark off a small space outside their house, as they have no garden as such. This is despite Mindy’s mentor and long-time professor of French, a long-standing inhabitant of Belle-Île-en-Mer, having originally enticed them to take up residence there, after a disappointing sojourn on the mainland. However, they grow to be adept masters at weathering such storms, which is just as well, seeing that the island is located in the, at times, tempest-beset Bay of Biscay.

Apart from the appeal of the rather exotic location, a key draw card of the text is the strong family bonding that is evident throughout the book—one that is so strong that it even influences the Wallace’s house guests, resulting in sundry marriages post-Kerbordardoué. The warmth of the relationship between Don and Mindy proves itself in their strong survival skills, which might, in the case of other, more shaky, unions have foundered on their numerous trials and tribulations. Even though Don does, with what seems like unshakeable good humor, refer to the difficulties that they encounter in having a second home abroad, and one that, what’s more, requires almost total rebuilding from the foundations up, the spirit of striving together against the odds, which permeates The French House, is totally heart-warming.

For anyone who has hankered after living abroad, The French House is an absolute must-read. There is a great deal of wisdom in these pages, and much sound advice implicitly given. Prescribed summer reading for anyone with an interest in American–French relations, the book makes for both worthwhile and pleasurable reading—don’t miss it!

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