‘Paris Letters,’ A Journey in Designing Our Own Lives

In an effort to lead a more balanced and satisfying life, I made a personal vow to read more this summer.  Reading is a pastime that has always filled me with immense pleasure, yet it is also one that I frequently neglect.  When I find myself cozy, snug, and ready to lose myself in a stranger’s narrative, I either fall asleep after five pages (a generous estimation) or that cursed smartphone buzzes my attention away to other things.

No more.

This July I managed to happily zip through three wonderful books.  As a former avid reader, this was an overdue feat.  Such an accomplishment has not been had in more years than I’m comfortable confessing.  In the ongoing effort to learn more about French culture from an ex-pat’s perspective, I selected three books that precisely described the pros and cons of living in France.  Sometimes being hypnotized by the romanticized version of France- and Paris in particular- is easy.  The Eiffel Tower.  The cathedrals.  The ornate architecture.  It’s difficult to look beyond its many beautiful attributes.  As a Francophile, I’ve fantasized of a life overlooking the Eiffel Tower, but I know that doesn’t happen without adversity. If you’re considering a move to the City of Light, or anywhere else internationally, an overall awareness of potential challenges is of great benefit.

That leads me to the stories of three women, all of whom try to navigate the complexities of love, sex, and relationships in a foreign culture.  Sometimes it sizzles.  Sometimes it fizzles.  Regardless, if you’re looking for a unique summer read, you won’t want to miss the next few book reviews!

Image shows e-reader on desk showing Paris Letters amongst crumpled paper and a notepad that says 'Design your own life'.

Paris Letters

Janice MacLeod

To sum it up…

Janice has had enough.  Her humdrum career in advertising has expunged any dwindling scrap of personal fulfillment.  Her life feels static and devoid of fun.  In a gradual move to redesign her life into one that is actually satisfying, she purges all of her material possessions, reduces her spending, saves money aggressively, and develops a strategy that will afford her the opportunity to quit her job, travel abroad, and humbly savor the world.

As Janice embarks on this journey of self-realization, dormant creative passions awaken both artistically and romantically.  While in Paris, flirtation with the dreamy Christophe, a local butcher, beckons Janice into throes of desire, which quickly evolves into something more meaningful.   Finding a love interest in Paris seems like the textbook fairy tale romance, but as Janice learns, the heart is not impervious to cultural barriers either.

My Thoughts…

Janice MacLeod has earned my respect, for whatever that’s worth.  Let’s first examine her complete life reboot.  Could you reduce all of your belongings to one suitcase and live on that? Where would all my Sephora goodies go?  I couldn’t simply toss a thirty dollar tube of Nars lipstick… or could I?  MacLeod made me reexamine my need for and attachment to… stuff.  She completely sheds herself of her old life.  While sacrificing family mementos feels impossible, life seems like it would be easier with less material possessions.  Does anyone really need ten pairs of shoes?  Generally, that answer is no.  I promptly ransacked my house, and tossed anything that hadn’t been used in a year.  That felt phenomenal.  I don’t miss any of it either. Au revoir!

Another admirable takeaway from Janice’s story was her persistence in making a relationship work between two vastly different cultures.  American love to French love.  French love to Polish Love. Polish love to American love.  Between each is an entirely different set of protocols and expectations, and Janice effectively educates her readers on such.  Christophe does not speak English. Having a minimal grasp on the French language, and a zero grasp of Polish, Janice is unrelenting in overcoming their communication impediments.  In my own marriage, my husband and I continue to build and strengthen our communication with one another, and that’s not always easy.  At least we understand each other verbally.  The added hurdle of a sizeable language barrier is hard to fathom, but Janice and Christophe successfully manage it.

Paris Letters will make anyone feel good about life.   Maybe you won’t necessarily want to ditch your belongings, quit your job, and book the first flight across the globe, but MacLeod’s own epiphanies will make any reader appreciate the often overlooked effort required to maintain a happy and fulfilling life.

Next on my summer reading list: Is Paris really the most romantic city in the world? We’ll discuss that question through author Lily Heise’s perspective from her book, Je T’aime, Me neither.

À la prochaine!

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