Alice Evleth's memoir vignettes are snippets of life. But the 55 vignettes brought together in this book add up to far more than a collection of snippets. They add up to a memoir of half a lifetime in Paris, and counting.
Born in 1935, Alice Evleth moved permanently with her husband Earl and then-14-year-old daughter Peggy to Paris from California in 1974 when Earl snagged a job in France. It gives nothing in this book away to tell you that Alice, unwilling to live as "the trailing spouse," developed her own career in France as a historian specialized in the lives and fate of Jewish doctors during the Second World War. It spoils nothing to tell you that for years she and Earl visited an American incarcerated in a French prison on drug charges. And that for years they were frighteningly stalked by an anonymous man on the internet. Nor that Alice likes a good croissant, is fascinated by the sight of a flower growing in the crack of a sidewalk, loves dachshunds, and goes beachcombing on the Greek Island of Aegina every year. It gives nothing away to tell you that Earl died in 2013 and that the irony of being asked to dress a body that would be cremated did not escape her. By then, Alice had been living in Paris for half her life.
She still lives in the heart of the city, surrounded by the charms of the 6th arrondissement, with the Luxembourg Garden as her neighborhood park. But don't look for the clichés of Paris in Alice Evleth's collection of memoir vignettes, for what sets her work apart is the restrained precision with which she writes about personal incidents and events, whether mundane, unexpected, upsetting or heartbreaking, as she examines half a lifetime in Paris, and counting.
Unlike most other American memoirs involving life abroad, this book doesn't seek to impress readers with the author's love for or discovery of a foreign place, in this case Paris. Instead, this book sets out to truly reveal a personal, singular life lived there. Paris is not Alice's foreign place; it is her home.
This book will appeal to anyone who has lived abroad, whether in Paris or elsewhere, or has ever wondered what it's like to live abroad. Paris-lovers will discover a new way of looking at the City of Light. And anyone interest in writing their memoirs will appreciate the cumulative power of this collection of memoir vignettes.