Review: Foreign Tongue

Foreign Tongue: A Novel of Life & Love in Paris
By Vanina Marsot
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Pub. Date: April 2009
ISBN-13: 9780061673665

384pp

Here’s the blurb from Barnes and Noble:

Paris, the storybook capital of romance—of strolls down cobblestone streets and kisses by the Seine—may not be the ideal location to mend a wounded heart. But pragmatic professional writer Anna, who has been unlucky in love in L.A., has come here with keys to her aunt’s empty apartment. Bilingual and blessed with dual citizenship, she seeks solace in the delectable pastries, in the company of old friends, and in her exciting new job: translating a mysterious, erotic French novel by an anonymous author.

Intrigued by the story, and drawn in by the mystery behind the book, Anna soon finds herself among the city’s literati—and in the arms of an alluring Parisian—as she resolves to explore who she is . . . in both cultures.

The Short of It:

If a Hollywood ending is not your thing, then this book is just what the doctor ordered.

My Thoughts:

Back in April, I was lucky enough to hear Vanina Marsot at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. When she discussed her book, Foreign Tongue–what she described intrigued me. When we think of Paris, we think of romance, beauty, food and wine. There’s that, but there’s also a grittier side that we normally do not read about and when I heard that, I knew that I had to read this book.

After leaving a cheating boyfriend, Anna ends up in Paris. She lives rent free in her Aunt’s apartment, eats a lot of pastries, hangs out with friends and manages to fall in love with another man. On top of that, she finds a job translating an erotic novel from French to English. What’s not to love, right?

Well…there are some underground clubs. Clubs that basically focus on orgies and the like. When Anna’s friend suggests that they go to one, she isn’t interested at first, but after thinking about it for awhile, she decides that she is curious and wouldn’t mind checking the place out. Reading about the club was a bit bizarre but I have to admit that I was a bit curious too. I mean, do these places really exist? This is definitely a grittier, dirtier Paris than I ever imagined but at the same time, I could not pull myself away from it.

Let’s talk about Anna’s work for a bit. She is hired to translate an erotic novel from French to English. This proves to be quite a challenge! For one, the novel that she is translating sucks (what’s the French translation for that?). Finding the right word involves knowing how to interpret the intent of what is being said, and since Anna is only given one chapter at a time, she has a hard time coming up with the right words since she doesn’t know the end result.

There is a lot of French in this novel. Much of it is translated immediately by the author but some is not. I was surprised at how much French I remembered from my four years of French class. As I read each passage, I had fun trying to figure out what was being said. It gave me an appreciation of the language that I didn’t have before.

When Anna finds a new guy, it’s not all bells and whistles. Olivier is handsome and a bit mysterious but you can sense a darkness about him. He has secrets! As Anna visits with friends and attends all sorts of parties, she has her doubts about Olivier and as much as she wants to ignore them, she can’t.

Overall, this trip to Paris was a bit different than the other literary trips I have taken. It took me to places that I would not have gone on my own, but that is what adventure is all about.

I’ll end with this (at the end of page 287):

Anna : Tell me, what’s it called in French when a film ends happily but in a way that you don’t believe?

Clara (Anna’s Friend): An American ending.

Vanina Marsot writes and translates full-time and lives in Los Angeles and Paris, when not gallivanting about to far-flung corners of the world. If you’d like read more about Vanina Marsot, click here.

Thanks to Book Club Girl and HarperCollins for providing me with this review copy.

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13 thoughts on “Review: Foreign Tongue”

  1. Ti, this sounds like a wonderful story! I love books about writers and who doesn't love Paris? Your review was fantastic and makes me want to run out and grab this one up. It's definitely going on my list! Thanks!

  2. I've read several great reviews of this one. I love books set in France. I'm adding this to my wish list.

  3. I REALLY want to read this one. I have seen it around and with each additional review I want it MORE!

  4. I've seen a few reviews of this one also and the story intrigues me. I often like reading about the grittier side of places that seem so perfect otherwise. I've always liked the cover on this one too. Thanks for the great review Ti.

  5. I bought a copy of this book after attending that same panel at FoB, and I just might have to bump it up the TBR stack now. Maybe I need a goal – read all of the books I was inspired to buy at this year's Festival before next year's :-).

    Great review, but I really hope the fact that I took Spanish in school won't leave me at a disadvantage with the untranslated French passages!

  6. Novel Menagerie (Sheri)- I am recommending it, but it's a different kind of read. It's not wrapped up in pretty paper and tied with a bow. It's a little darker than one acertain from the blurb and cover and if you are the type of person to enjoy that, then you will enjoy this.

    But I know that you've already read it 🙂

  7. Thank you for a great review, Ti. I've been going back and forth on this one. The plot summary does really make me want to read it but so much of what others have had to say about the writing does. I may have to try it yet!

  8. It sounds like a very interesting book, but I don't know if I would like the darker aspect. Your review has me curious though. I also wonder if it would be hard to read for someone who doesn't speak French at all.

  9. I'm not sure this is a book for me (overall, I think I like American endings!), but great review, and I enjoyed the quote.

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