As someone who loves France and all things French, I'm already sold on a book when it gives me a snapshot of French life.
And this book, Finding Fontainebleau by Thad Carhart, is unique because it is a memoir about a time when many Americans might not recognize France, that time in the early 50s, after World War II as France recovered from the war.
Carhart's family went to France, after his father was assigned to work as a military officer there. So the American family with five children rented a large manor house, and his father worked in an office in Chateau Fontainebleau.
Part of the book is the author's remembrances of growing up in France. Having worked on a memoir myself, I question how much a 4-year-old boy could actually remember, but I'm sure he spent time interviewing older family members, and some of the stories have probably become family lore.
I love the peek into French schools at the time, as he wrote about the students who poured black ink into each student's inkwell every day, and then the 5-year-old children had to meticulously copy out letters across the page. I can't even imagine.
Carhart also returned to France as an adult with his own children, so he jumps to different time periods. As an adult, he digs into the Chateau Fontainebleau, which played such a pivotal role in his childhood, and he is fortunate enough to be taken in by the architect in charge of renovating the chateau so he can gather backstage information about each section.
Those sections are then interwoven with French history about the construction and use of the chateau and the French culture at the time.
I enjoyed reading Finding Fontainebleau and felt like I gained many insights into French history, although the story didn't sweep me away or give me an urgency to finish. It was more like a leisurely boat ride as I enjoyed the sights.
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