Book Reviews

Review: “Almost French,” Sarah Turnbull

January 20, 2011
Review: “Almost French,” Sarah TurnbullAlmost Frenchby Sarah Turnbull
Series: Standalone
Published by Bantam on August, 2004
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Travel
Pages: 320

Sarah Turnbull’s stint in Paris was only supposed to last a week. Chance had brought Sarah and Frédéric together in Bucharest, and on impulse she decides to take him up on his offer to visit him in the world’s most romantic city. Sacrificing Vegemite for vichyssoise, the feisty Australian journalist does her best to fit in, although her conversation, her laugh, and even her wardrobe advertise her foreign status.

But as she navigates the highs and lows of this strange new world, from life in a bustling quartier and surviving Parisian dinner parties to covering haute couture fashion shows and discovering the paradoxes of French culture, little by little Sarah falls under its spell: maddening, mysterious, and charged with that French specialty—seduction.

I don’t usually read non-fiction or memoirs, but I received this as a Christmas gift from my best friend and was immediately intrigued! As an Aussie myself wanting to venture to Paris, I was curious to see the culture and lifestyle from a point of view I could relate to. Almost French is an eye-opening reading experience that will leave you more enlightened about the City of Light than you’d ever thought you’d be!

I’ll say it again in case anyone missed it – this book is a non-fictional memoir of an Australian journalists transition to French culture and way of life. It may sound like it’s a sort of ‘romance’ novel, but really that’s just the underlying theme. Yes, things are set in motion for her love of the Frenchman, Frederic, but really he’s a secondary character and the story is more geared towards Sarah’s view of the things around her.

If you’re looking for a romance tale – don’t turn to Almost French. If you’re looking for a gritty, true account of how things are really done in Paris – pick this one up! That being said, the book was written a few years ago (90s-2000s) and some aspects of the city would have undoubtedly changed.

Each chapter delves into a new ‘problem’ or obstacle Sarah must overcome or learn to adapt to. But don’t think these transitions in the story are choppy – they’re not. She has a very effortless way of writing and it will seem as if she’s personally talking to you instead of presenting to thousands of readers. That’s something I really enjoyed about this novel. Things don’t go easy for Sarah and she’s not afraid to tell you all about her most embarrasing experiences and her most accomplishing (the patisserie scene was one of my favourites).

I have a newfound respect for all Aussie expats in France after reading Almost French. Sure, I knew it might be a little difficult to leap over the cultural barrier and really ingrain yourself in the Parisian population, but never did I contemplate what a tough hide you have to have. Being a sensitive person, it made me a little wary to see firsthand just how much I may have to toughen up to fit in with the crowd!

I highly recommend this to anyone with a love for travel. The only drawbacks with Almost French that made me lower its star rating to 4 were two things; 1) I wish Sarah’s relationship with Frederic was explored a little more. Yes, he’s there in a good portion of the scenes but I wish we’d seen a little more of the romance, how they fell in love, etc. 2) The book read long in parts. It took me a few weeks to really digest this one instead of steaming through it.

Recommended to: ‘Anglo-Saxons’, as we’re most often referred to in the book, wanting to travel to the number one holiday destination in the world!

About Sarah Turnbull

Sarah Turnbull is a freelance writer. Formerly a television journalist with SBS, she began working in print media after moving to France from Sydney. Since then she has been writing regularly for magazines ranging from The Australian Magazine to Australian Gourmet Traveller. As a student at the Australian National University, she studied politics, Fine Art and French. Sarah dropped French after failing the subject in her first year.

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