Our Nightstand Reads about France

man reading a book

-John Hugh

My nightstand is loaded.  It’s about to need new legs.  I keep 3-4 books running at the same time – usually a combo of fiction, history, and biography.  Now it has its own French section.

I do love history.  William Faulkner, born in my hometown of New Albany, famously wrote, “the past is not dead, it’s not even past.”  I was born with a prescient knowledge that the past is reality, for better or worse.  This included family history, heritage, tall tales of people – some true, some embellished.

My French books are tied to history.  Over the last year, at DDay’s 75th Anniversary, a lot of good books were published on the leadership of women leading up to and during the invasion.   It’s great to see new and revealing history come forth at this particular time.  That is why history is so great – there is always something new to learn and be fascinated by.  I look forward to sharing more!

Madame Fourcade’s Secret War 

Madame Fourcade's Secret WarThis book shares the true and important history of Marie Madeleine Fourcade’s leadership in the French resistance during World War 2.  Not only her, it is filled with dozens of characters who risked and gave their lives stealing and sharing the secrets of the Nazi’s in France.  They did what they had to do.  There are midnight escapes, underground meetings, secret flights to Britain, love found, and love lost, in the trenches of spying, recruiting spies, and gathering intelligence.

 Madame Fourcade is the center of the story, the leader of the French Resistance from 1941-1944.  The book speaks of her courage and tenacity and how she, as a woman, won over the minds and hearts of many men who first resisted, then accepted, then championed her leadership of the underground.  She gave it all for the cause.  She had her children secreted away to Switzerland.  She watched her love be captured, then sent to concentration camps.  She survived.  The book tells how.  It also tells how her underground spy network led the way for the Allies ultimate invasion.  It is a spectacular read.

Normandy 1944:  the DDay Landing and the 77 Day Battle for France  

Normandy '44Much has been written on DDay, June 6, 1944, its lead up and the days around the invasion on the beaches of Normandy (see Stephen Ambrose).  This book is different.  It begins before DDay and a great part of it is focused on the landings.  However, it adds the subsequent slog across Normandy, into France, and the liberation of Paris.  It gives details of the plans, the foreboding, the trepidation, and all that was at stake on that Day of Days.  Yet it focuses on the human element: the soldiers and generals who planned and fought.

I’ve just begun it, so I’m around the section on DDay.  I look forward to learning more about the push into France.  Seizing this territory was not easy.  The Germans didn’t just stand down.  Many gave their lives.  One interesting note that it does focus on, as I skipped ahead, is the determination the German leadership in Paris had to not let the city be destroyed And this is after Hitler gave the orders to let it burn.  Yes, the Germans, knowing the war was lost, secretly disobeyed orders so Paris would be Paris for years afterward, and not a charred ruin as Hitler desired.  Their love for the city and its culture overrode the orders of the Fuhrer.


John Hugh has books stacked all over our house.  He will stay up past midnight to finish a great chapter.  I used to be a voracious novel reader before children. Part of my journey back to emotional health is learning how to unplug and unwind at night.  It feels selfish to read something simply for pleasure – and fiction & poetry are my true pleasures.

Around My French Table    I am venturing slowly back in that direction with a few practical reads.   The warmth of laughter and delicious food is an intoxicating combination for me.  I can’t stop buying beautiful cookbooks – or asking people to buy them for me.  A bonanza Christmas it was!  I love lingering at a dinner table.  I have a hard time with our rapid paced meals in America.   Three boys and a husband who works out before dinner never lends itself to long meals.  I spend most of my time asking my children and husband to eat slowly (translation:  don’t shove food down your mouth and belch because you swallowed too much air gulping it down).  Sigh, 4 boys.   Perhaps it’s the sprinkling of Italian leisurely meals in my childhood, but I am looking forward to France’s favorite pastime: bien manger – eating well!

The Bonjour Effect   One of the first tips I received from an American living in France for over 30 years is never underestimate that bonjour is far more than a simple hello.  It serves different and more complex purposes than the standard English “Hello”.  Who wants to be rude as you assimilate into a new culture?   The book will be a quick read, as it received mixed reviews.  I am curious about the crude generalizations Americans make about the French and vice versa.  We have a romantic fascination with each other’s culture.  As I tune into French radio on my phone, they love to interview American music artists, celebrities, and actors.  I hope to fly through a stack of user friendly lifestyle & destination guides about Paris in the next few months.

One of the books creeping to the top of my list is called L’art de Perdre (The Art of Losing).   It’s not translated into English yet – darn!  A young French author Alice Zeniter traces her Algerian roots with a thrilling saga about the Algerian war and its consequences. “You lose what is not communicated; it’s as simple as that” – Zeniter. Intriguing!   I may have to make a reluctant dive into reading in French sooner than I anticipated.

Thanks for reading!  Stay tuned for future nightstand reviews.  Check out our Instagram Stories (small circles on our Instagram page).  Keep following along as we prepare to move to Paris July 2020!

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