Vicarious French Travel (Through Books)

March 20, 2020

So I’m home from work and teaching remotely for the next two weeks, could be even longer if Covid-19 doesn’t get under control . Normally I would relish in the extra time off, possibly even plan a getaway but this is no joke and we all need to slow down. Andrew and I went out to brunch on Sunday and savored every bite knowing that this may be the last brunch out for a while. Restaurants are now closed, with take out options only and we are practicing social distancing and hunkering down. We may not have 100 rolls of toilet paper but we have food, board games, music, shows to watch and books to read.

As more and more cases are diagnosed and airlines are lessening flights, the reality that our trip to France in April will need to be postponed is sinking in. But there are other ways we can get our fix of travel and new places right from the comfort of our sofa, bed or favorite chair. Books.  As I’m looking through some of my old favorites I’m noticing a pattern. 1. I am drawn to historical fiction and 2. France

Many of the books that I have read recently have been set in my favorite destination. So since I can’t travel to France right now, I’ll have to make due with a glass Bordeaux and a good book. Below you’ll find some of my favorite books that take place in my favorite setting.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

This is one of my favorite books. I often give it as a gift when I know a book lover. It switches back and forth between the lives of two people, one in 1942 and the other in present day…or 2002, so I guess not so present day. I read this book in a weekend, I could not put it down.

It’s set in 1942 Paris. A young girl (Sarah) and her family are arrested by the French police during a round up and Sarah locks her brother up in a cupboard to keep him safe until she comes back in a few hours.  Julia is present day journalist who is doing a story about the French roundup and becomes obsessed with Sarah’s story.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

This books tells the story of two sisters in France during World War II, and their struggle to survive and resist the German occupation of France. Vianne, a schoolteacher who is married and has a child, must endure the drafting and subsequent capture of her husband Antoine. Isabelle, the younger and more impetuous sister  with no other family to protect, decides to take an active role in resisting the occupation. She joins the French Resistance and is initially tasked with distributing anti-Nazi propaganda.

It was inspired by the story of a Belgian woman, Andree de Jongh, who helped downed Allied pilots to escape Nazi territory. A great story that shows you just how brave and resilient women of that time were.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This book inspired our stop in St. Malo! The way that Doerr paints the image of the winding stone walls and twisty lanes I needed to see it myself.

Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

Little French Bistro by Nina George

Marianne is stuck in a loveless, unhappy marriage.  After forty-one years, she has reached her limit, and one evening in Paris she decides to take action. Following a dramatic moment on the banks of the Seine, Marianne leaves her life behind and sets out for the coast of Brittany.

This book has lively characters and you can smell the salt air as you imagine the Breton coast. Nina George also includes some recipes in the back of the book which may inspire you to have a French dinner in. The selected recipes represent Brittany, with savory Galettes and a Kir Breton cocktail.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

This is a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway’s marriage to the first of his four wives, Hadley Richardson. Shortly after they marry in Chicago they move to Paris and become immersed in the jazz, drinking and wild living of the 1920s. The story focuses on the romance, marriage and sadly the divorce of the couple.  It’s an interesting read, and paints a colorful picture of the Jazz Age in Paris.

The Little Paris Book Shop by Nina George

Another great read by George! Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Through his selections he mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself. He’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared, she left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.

Again Nina George provides recipes in the back of her book. This time it’s filled with tastes of Provence, such as Pistou and Lavender ice cream.

My Life in France by Julia Child

I love Julia Child. I love her humor, the way she explains things and of course her recipes. She was not always a master chef though and when she first arrived in France in 1948 with her husband, she spoke no French and knew nothing about the country itself. But as she dove into French culture, buying food at local markets and taking classes at the Cordon Bleu, her life changed forever with her newfound passion for cooking and teaching. I loved the way this was written and you can hear her voice on every page. She really paints a picture of what it would be like for an American living in France.


Remember to try to support your local book store during this time and always. I prefer to shop at my local book store, you never know what may be in the used section and  supporting small businesses has always been important in my family. My favorite locally owned shop is offering curb side pick up on phone orders and I bet a book shop near you is doing the same. I have a Kindle as well but Amazon is doing just fine without my order.

I just restarted Citadel by Kate Mosse. It was my jury duty book a couple years ago that I completely forgot about! I am currently looking for any recommendations to escape to another time and place. Please help me get my travel fix 🙂


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