It was not always that I was in love with French culture. Perhaps, when I was young, I was tired of being thought to be French just because my last name is Paris. (Actually, it’s pronounced PAH-rrhish with a slightly trilled “r”.) It reached a crescendo in 1976, when my Laker Airlines flight to London stopped for some cockamamie reason at Le Bourget in Paris when we were all subject to security checks. When a French border guard wanted me to open up the back of my Olympus OM-1 camera and expose half a roll of film, I refused and called the man a cochon. Fortunately, I got away with it, though I probably shouldn’t have.
Now I am a devoted Francophile. What happened? First of all, Martine is French; and I went to France with her twice, where I found the French to be not at all as I thought them to be. Even the Parisians were all right. I suspect they seemed better because I speak fairly decent French and I could communicate with them.
I am now co-moderator of the Yahoo! French Literature reading group. Although the group concentrates on French literature of the 19th century, I discovered many 20th century classics reading books with the group. I thought I would share the ten I liked best over the last few years, presented here in alphabetical order by author:
- Georges Bernanos: Diary of a Country Priest. Made into a wonderful film by Robert Bresson.
- Louis-Ferdinand Céline: Journey to the End of the Night. I had read this before, but liked it even more on re-reading it.
- J M G Le Clézio: The Prospector. Looking for pirate treasure in Mauritius.
- Albert Cohen: Belle du Seigneur. A great novel about obsessive love set in the period between the two world wars.
- Jean Giono: The Horseman on the Roof. A wonderful historical novel about plague in Southern France.
- Julien Gracq: The Opposing Shore. I had never heard of Gracq before, but this is a wonderful story about contacts between two civilizations that have drifted apart. Like the West and Islam.
- François Mauriac: Thérèse Desqueyroux. A profoundly Catholic novel about a murderess.
- Patrick Modiano: Out of the Dark. Recalls the world of the New Wave films of the 1950s and 1960s. I have since read several more of Modiano’s books and find he is one of my favorites.
- Marcel Pagnol: My Father’s Glory. A sentimental memoir of a childhood in Provence.
- Raymond Queneau: The Last Days. I just read this one a couple of weeks ago. A wonderful study of life in Paris circa 1920.
I have left out Marcel Proust, who means more to me than all of the above put together, and also Georges Simenon, who also is well known in the West.