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Journeys Through France and Life

Journeys Through France and life

In full compliance with FTC Guidelines,
I received this book for free in exchange
for a fair and honest review.
I was in no way compensated for this post
as a reviewer,
and the thoughts are my own.
Journeys Through France
and Life
by
Glenda de Vaney
Release date: March 23, 2013
at Journeys Press
296 pages 

ISBN: 978-0615660875

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MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK

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France has much to offer. Among many things, it can be a solace for a woman struggling in a dysfunctional marriage, and doing all she can to help her son who is suffering from schizophrenia, as Glenda de Vaney shows in her memoir Journeys Through France and Life.

The book opens with a funny episode: de Vaney managed to get trapped on the grounds of a Loire Valley château during a lunch break – in France as you may know, people still try to take time to live, and businesses shut down at lunch time to allow their staff time to eat. But she was resourceful enough to escape before the end of the lunch break! After that, she retraces how she ended up traveling to France twice a year for many years.

Her book combines memories of all her trips to France, as well as details of her marriage life, and then how she dealt with her son’s illness.

There are great passages on French cuisine and markets, as well as its rural landscape that she enjoys very much. She visits many regions, so you can visit with her Burgundy, Alsace, Brittany, Normandy, and the Loire Valley among others. I enjoyed the descriptions and details of the numerous châteaux she visited: she loved them so much she started taking pictures of them (some of them included in the book) and ended up selling them and making slide presentations about them.

In the first part of the book, I was amazed how she managed to live for twenty years in a dysfunctional marriage, with major communication issues with a manipulative and possibly bipolar husband having huge mood swings. It sounds like her regular trips to France were the regular breather that helped her survive.

But when she discovers her son is suffering from schizophrenia, she becomes a different person, she decides to leave her husband (without telling him) and do all she can to help her son. She becomes much more confidant and sure of herself,  so much so that she learns to schedule her trips to France by herself, faces her fears, and manages to drive while there. Her courage to face all her challenges is really beautiful. All the passages concerning her son’s illness are very enlightening, and I’m sure very helpful to read if you have a friend or relative suffering from this disease.

A few things related to France puzzled me:

  • it’s funny in chapter 2 they decide to go to Italy when they are in Alsace, when they were in Dijon just before: Italy is quite close to Italy, but Alsace is much more north east
  • also on pp.14-15, she mentions several cathedrals in Dijon. Dijon indeed has many churches, but only 1 cathedral, St Bénigne, not far from the railway station. Actually there cannot be more than one cathedral per city, the cathedral is the seat of the bishop, there’s only one bishop per diocese. And Dijon happens to be my home town.
  • Chapter 20 is about her spiritual journey. She admits that her strong faith helped her all along. I think this is wonderful, and I would really have liked to see this aspect developed as she managed to go through all her hurdles, instead of speaking about this important dimension of her life spoken her very briefly in one isolated chapter

And a few things annoyed me:

  • At first, I enjoyed her passion for French food and her descriptions of the meals she had there made me really hungry, but then I found these descriptions too numerous and repetitive, and sometimes clichés, like other elements not reflecting real French life:

While dining, they often talk about food, discussing which type of wine goes best with different meals, or the various preparations of particular dishes
p.29.  I don’t recall having that type of conversation while dining with my family

  • Sometimes, she does not seem to be too open to differences between France and US, as for names, driving, or even food. I’m sure lots of these passages were intended to be funny, but too often they turned to something hyper critical according to my own feeling. I guess it’s just that French humor is very different form American humor:
  • “Some of the places we stayed in took on a name of their own, different from the real, unpronounceable one” (p.43). Well, it would be hard to expect French names to sound like English names. But French is a syllabic language, so once you learn how to pronounce each sound, it is not rocket science to cut-the-word-in-to-sy-lla-bles-and-pro-noun-ce-e-ven-ve-ry-long-word – trust my experience with my numerous online French students
  • I was actually quite appalled by the not-funny-at-all surname they gave a bossy waitress. I am aware waiters can be rude with foreigners, but to call one “the Gestapo lady”, because she would not obey their whims, sounded over the top to me. The country is still very sensitive to the pain suffered during that time.
  • As for the driving, there are a lot of passages against “the deranged French drivers” (p.118) or directions, such as: “Antibes is one of those towns, abundant in France, where one drives round and round and somehow ends up where one started” (p.54). Actually I do believe directions are very clear, from the metro to  tollways. If it’s confusing, especially in larger towns, the transportation system is such that a good easy solution is to rent a car in between smaller towns and use the train and metro for larger cities.  You can even rent a car in one city and conveniently leave it in another city. This is actually what I did last time I went to France.
  • She mostly likes French food, but not always, for instance “pigs’ brains or something equally unpalatable” I don’t think it’s fair to call something you don’t like “unpalatable”. Has she even tried them? I wish she could taste the one my mother made herself at home. I actually just discovered you can buy pigs’ brains in the US!
  • As for the “jokes” with the GPS system, they really were too numerous to remain funny. GPS has also different important settings, and if it’s set correctly it can be very helpful, as mine was when I took it to France for my last trip. My own “GPS lady” did not seem to dislike the trip.

VERDICT: Combined with interesting descriptions of France, this memoir is a wonderful testimony of what a mother is ready to do to help her son suffering from schizophrenia. It contains very helpful advice if you have a friend or relative with this illness.

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WHAT IS IT ABOUT

Month-long trips to France twice a year – that was the life! Until real life intervenes and everything changes. Come on a journey through France with the author and her husband, eating delicious cuisine, seeing fabulous sights, mixing it up with the French. Stay on the journey as a crisis reveals that her son from a previous marriage has schizophrenia, and that her husband is not only unsympathetic, but something more.

Travel with the author as she faces her fears, and finds a way back to her true self. Through her experience, others may find insight regarding dark corners of their own lives. She puts a human face on the stigmatized illness of schizophrenia, while sharing her love of France, where she finds frustration, humor, and joy.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Journeys Through France and Life - De Vaney Smitten with France,
Glenda de Vaney has traveled there
over thirty times to photograph châteaux, gardens,
villages and whatever is beautiful.
She presents slide shows on France and sells framed pictures.
The author is a former volunteer for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
and an advocate for those suffering from mental illness.
She is also an avid table tennis player
who strikes fear in her opponents’ hearts,
or at least wishes she did.
Glenda lives in a historic home
in a suburb of San Diego with the younger of her two sons.

Visit her website.

Follow Glenda de Vaney on  Facebook

 

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