Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dreaming in French

Dreaming in French -- Charlotte Sanders a precocious American girl growing up in Paris in the late 1970s, leads a charmed life. As students at an elite international school, she and her peers study in Paris's cafés and tabacs, see movies at the Cinémathèque, and experience the thrills and agonies of first love to the sounds of Serge Gainsbourg and Pink Floyd. Charlotte's father, a lawyer and quiet intellectual, devotes his spare time to Balzac and opera. Her sister, Lea, is a star equestrian. And her mother Astrid's passion for left-wing causes is equaled only by her fashion sense.

But this idyllic childhood is turned upside down when Astrid has an affair and the family is shattered. Leaving her sister in Paris, Charlotte follows her mother to New York. There, reduced circumstances and Astrid's unwillingness to face reality force Charlotte to quickly grow up. In the shadow of her glamorous and erratic mother, Charlotte has to negotiate her own path to womanhood, eventually living through her own unhappy love affair and returning to a Europe that has been reshaped by the downfall of Communism.

At once a coming-of-age story and a meditation on cultural identity, Dreaming in French is an enchanting portrayal of the challenges of adolescence and an honest account of one girl's discovery that where we come from makes us who we are.

Publishers Weekly: McAndrew's atmospheric second novel (after Going Topless) takes readers into the superficially glamorous lives of the expatriate Sanders family in late 1970s Paris. Fifteen-year-old Charlotte lives with her snobby older sister, "emotionally autistic" father and chic "though she was from Kentucky" mother, Astrid. Charlotte busies herself with the standard obsessions of adolescence: crushes, homework, power plays within her school's cliques. Her journey to adulthood begins as her parents' marriage-and her family-crumble when her mother's affair with a Polish dissident lands Astrid in jail. Forced to choose between her parents, Charlotte moves with Astrid to the punk scene of early '80s New York and works her way through the milestones of a young woman's life: high school, college, work. Slowly, she finds her place in the world while her family's capacity for reinvention leads its members to new and unexpected alliances. McAndrew's casual but assured depictions of life among the upper crust of Paris and New York ("those heavy-lidded women of indeterminable age") and wry voice ("one of those iconic Parisian addresses that only foreigners could afford"), make this coming-of-age novel a delectable treat.

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