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January 2013

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Paris, I love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down

Written by , Posted in Reviews

I want to live abroad someday. I’ve done it before, spending a year in London in 2009-2010. It was interesting, although I had a different perspective than Mr. Baldwin when he wrote Paris, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down. I was in school, wasn’t worried about my visa, and had housing booked before I arrived.

paris

Mr. Baldwin, on the other hand, had to navigate a lot of the new world of being an ex-pat on his own, with minimal assistance from his entertaining (and somewhat broadly written) coworkers. In this memoir of the realities of living in the City of Light, the author shares a seemingly endless (and at times seemingly pointless) stream of somewhat-connected, usually clever, anecdotes about the life he and his wife built when he was working at an advertising agency in Paris. The characters, while ostensibly based on real people, seem straight out of central casting (I have a very vivid picture of who could play the loud, friendly, somewhat useless landlord in the film version).

I can appreciate the idea of a book that doesn’t sugar coat the realities of life abroad. Some days you’re spending an entire afternoon looking at great works of art, eating divine sweets from the most adorable patisserie; the next you’re crying because you don’t know where to go to buy printer paper. Mr. Baldwin does an excellent job of painting a vivid picture that is not highly romanticized (a difficult task, since we’re talking about PARIS), but the book left me wanting more. There was a thread, loosely tying the numerous anecdotes together: he’s writing a novel while his wife is also pursuing her own creative work. But it felt disjointed, as though the author kept a journal, realized he has a few good comments to make and tried to turn it into a book.

That’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable to read; I definitely found myself laughing out loud a few times. And he clearly has a gift for language, which makes me think that I’d really enjoy his novel You Lost Me There, the writing of which he also chronicles during his Paris stay. I just felt that this particular book wasn’t fully formed when it went to the publisher.

If you have aspirations to live abroad, it can’t hurt to check this book out. It’s good to have a little reality with the dreams of spending lazy weekends on the banks of the Seine, reading Sartre and contemplating the future of democracy while drinking actual champagne. It’s also not bad for a little light reading even if you aren’t interested in trading in your house for a visa any time soon.

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