French Lessons: A Memoir


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After her father's death when she was seven, French became her way of "leaving home" and finding herself in another language and culture.


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In spare, midwestern prose, by turns intimate and wry, Kaplan describes how, as a student in a Swiss boarding school and later in a junior year abroad in Bordeaux, she passionately sought the French "r," attentively honed her accent, and learned the idioms of her French lover. When, as a graduate student, her passion for French culture turned to the elegance and sophistication of its intellectual life, she found herself drawn to the language and style of the novelist Louis-Ferdinand Celine.


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At the same time she was repulsed by his anti-Semitism. At Yale in the late 70s, during the heyday of deconstruction she chose to transgress its apolitical purity and work on a subject "that made history impossible to ignore:" French fascist intellectuals. Kaplan's discussion of the "de Man affair" — the discovery that her brilliant and charismatic Yale professor had written compromising articles for the pro-Nazi Belgian press—and her personal account of the paradoxes of deconstruction are among the most compelling available on this subject.

No book so engrossingly conveys both the excitement of learning and the moral dilemmas of the intellectual life. Review Quotes Review Quotes. Lisa Cohen Voice Literary Supplement. John Sturrock London Review of Books. Kaplan has shown that university professors, too, can have a past worth telling, that the subjects they teach may mean far more to them than any student could begin to guess.


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Rachel M. Brownstein, author of Becoming a Heroine. Telling her story about a girl from the midwest who learned to speak perfect French, a student of deconstruction who became intrigued by fascism, Alice Kaplan writes insightfully also about language, memory, politics, and writing.

The glamour of otherness and the allure of evil-as well as the characters of various mentors, meals, lovers, and students- are the subjects of this witty and insightful memoir. French Lessons is the story of her cultural odyssey, a brave attempt to articulate the compulsions that drove her to embrace foreignness in order to become truly herself. Graham Fraser Toronto Globe and Mail. Fred Turner Boston Phoenix.

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Jan 09, miteypen rated it really liked it. Although the author has spent some time in France and went to school for a while in Switzerland , she is an American who happens to love the French language. This is more of a memoir about how Kaplan learned French and what she has done with her knowledge of the language. But both books reflect on what learning a new language has done to shape not only their respe This book reminded me of Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language with an important difference: This is not an immigrant story.

But both books reflect on what learning a new language has done to shape not only their respective identities, but also the way they think.

Mar 14, Rebecca rated it it was amazing. This is one of those books that tells important pieces of my own life story. Kaplan really explores what it means to learn another language and adopt a second culture via language: how it feels to try to pronounce the French "r" for the first time, what's appealing about owning your first French pencil case. Suffice to say, I can relate and find these topics important!

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Her discussion of the perceived or real conflict of being francophile and Jewish is interesting, as is her description of her This is one of those books that tells important pieces of my own life story. Her discussion of the perceived or real conflict of being francophile and Jewish is interesting, as is her description of her job teaching French back in the States.

Dec 12, Sarah rated it it was ok. Sep 20, Jessica rated it it was amazing. Kaplan a French professor at Berkley remembers and analyzes her life through her learning of French. The learning of language is used as a very poignant metaphor here for the way she and maybe all of us tend to approach life. The metaphor gets even deeper as we learn about her family. Dec 30, Gretel rated it it was amazing. I loved French even more after reading this! Nov 03, Martha. S rated it liked it. I was drawn to this book as like Kaplan, I am drawn to all things French and an autobiography that speaks so strongly of this obsession, was one I was anxious to delve into.

The book tells the story of Kaplan's childhood in the Midwest, cut short when her father, a Jewish lawyer involved in the Nuremberg trial, suddenly died. Kaplan then went to Switzerland for a year, where began her love of French language and culture. It details her student life , as both undergraduate and postgraduate, and j I was drawn to this book as like Kaplan, I am drawn to all things French and an autobiography that speaks so strongly of this obsession, was one I was anxious to delve into. It details her student life , as both undergraduate and postgraduate, and journey to become French lecturer and teacher.

The writing style is crisp yet stylish. As language expert, she achieves a tone that balances that which characterises French and English styles. As well as a very personal account of her journey towards academia, she dedicates some chapters to French language itself, for example in search of the French 'r', and tenses. These were interesting to me being familiar with the language, but I'm not sure I would have the same interest if the language in question were, say Spanish or Italian.

There are also chapters dedicated to her doctoral studies, existentialism, deconstructivusm and French fascist writers. She details her experience of grappling with these concepts, quoting various French writers, philosophers and theorists. I found these chapters much too detailed and found myself skimming through these chapters, not, I'm sure, what Kaplan intended! However overall it was a well-written, thoughtful and personal account of her journey towards adulthood and her lifelong love affair with French.

At the end she draws an interesting parallel between a Patrick Modiano text and her own experience of being a child. In coming to terms with her fragmented past and quite sad childhood, she outlines how important it is for children to be listened to, because children see, hear and observe, and ultimately write. This writing is part of her coming-to-terms process, as it was for Modiano, as it is for many writers. I loved also how she spoke of her love of the language as being part of her DNA, her sharp analysis of semantics, and of of needing French as perhaps it signified freedom and absence for her, as she recalls her father being able too, to absent himself.

Apr 14, Sue rated it really liked it Shelves: books-set-in-france. The author gives an insightful account of living half in French and half in English - rare for one without a french family. Her fascination with French closely mirrors my own. Her trick to focusing on the French vowels rather than consonants as we do in English is invaluable. Feb 13, Rebecca rated it it was ok.

REMEMBERING A MEMOIR - Kaplan - - The Yale Review - Wiley Online Library

This book was given to me by a family friend who found a lot of wisdom in this book and wanted to pass it along. I'm sad to say that I didn't have the same experience with this story as she did - I found it a somewhat interesting read but kept getting lost in all the unnecessary details. This felt like a me This book was given to me by a family friend who found a lot of wisdom in this book and wanted to pass it along. This felt like a memoir written for the author's older self, so she could relive her life and remember the nuances - it didn't feel magical or relateble to a more general audience, even though it seemed like that was her actual aim.

Sep 21, Alarie rated it really liked it. When she left the conversational tone of memoir for more esoteric topics about analyzing literature, fascism, or even French, I found the book tedious. Some readers may want to skip a few chapters in Part Four. Aug 12, Caleb rated it really liked it. A quirky memoir that has been sitting on my shelf for two years, I was given it by my high school French teacher and good friend.

It probably resonated with me more than most both as a French student and because of the giver.

French Lessons: A Memoir Book Summary and Study Guide

Her thoughts on disappearing into another language and the quirks of French in particular resonated. Stretches when she discuss her PhD in fascist literature were not quite so significant, but it's a unique story about someone finding themselves in the world and making sens A quirky memoir that has been sitting on my shelf for two years, I was given it by my high school French teacher and good friend. Stretches when she discuss her PhD in fascist literature were not quite so significant, but it's a unique story about someone finding themselves in the world and making sense of that self in multiple countries and in terms of a family history.

Apr 23, Greta rated it liked it. Alice Kaplan is fascinated with the French language and does devote her life to teaching French. Her experiences are international and heart felt.

French Lessons: A Memoir French Lessons: A Memoir
French Lessons: A Memoir French Lessons: A Memoir
French Lessons: A Memoir French Lessons: A Memoir
French Lessons: A Memoir French Lessons: A Memoir
French Lessons: A Memoir French Lessons: A Memoir
French Lessons: A Memoir French Lessons: A Memoir

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