What we’ve come to expect of books about French people and French love is that they will feature clichés about the French (Parisians specifically), photos in black and white from a bygone era, or else comedic riffing on what it is to be French (also rife with clichés).
“Amour: How the French Talk About Love,” by journalist Stefania Rousselle (Penguin Books 2020), is not that book. It’s an honest, raw portrayal of French people and love, without any of the usual glossy trappings.
A Pulitzer Prize finalist, Rousselle, who is French-American, reported on the 2015 terrorist attack in Paris for The New York Times. The violence, along with the heartache from a recent relationship gone bad, shook her so badly that she found herself questioning what love is. Over the course of two years, Rousselle traveled alone across France to meet with French people and discuss love. The result is “Amour.”
In over ninety interviews and 100 photos, Rousselle presents a unique depiction of love. In Pac d’Assabère, Le Chesnay, Fleury, and many more towns most non-French people have never heard of, love is found in stories of second marriages, loss, raising children, rejection, internet connections, and lifelong partners.
“Amour” puts the romanticized depiction of France to shame. There are no stories of couples who had a meet-cute on Pont Neuf, who live perfect bohemian lives on a houseboat on the Côte d’Azur, who share kisses on the rooftop of their luxurious Paris apartment. Rosselle’s presentation of love in France is diverse, in age, ancestral origins, and sexuality. She profiles a mixed-race couples on their couch speaking of prejudice, a never-been-kissed man in his workshop, and a woman, who leaves her husband and returns to him every day because she’s afraid of him, standing in her doorway. “Please forgive me if I cry,” says an 81-year-old man from Saint-Orens-Pouy-Petit, speaking of his deceased wife.
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“I lost my wife last November. Her name was Marie-Jeanne. I met her at a village ball. We didn’t live in the same town so I would write her letters all the time so we could meet up every weekend. I would talk to her about mundane things, if I had a cold for instance. I would write that I kissed her tenderly. She was a simple girl just like me. A girl from the countryside. We were together for 47 years. I loved her. Marriage is like a business. I built the house. She cooked and raised the children. One of them is mentally disabled. He lives in a special center. When they told him his mother had died, he cried. I thought that when he would come back to the house, he would look for her everywhere, open the doors, like he used to do. But he didn’t. He didn’t ask for her. He knew. She’s buried in the cemetery down the village. I still have to put her stone marker with her name, the year she was born and died. I am also going to add a little cross. There are moments where I really get depressed, when I am really low. Oh la la, you can’t even imagine. I miss her. She was a good cook because she was from the Landes, where there are a lot of good cooks. In the winter, we would watch television, then sit near the fire and fall asleep in our respective chairs. We were happy. I always hoped it would last forever. It didn’t. Please forgive me if I cry.” Lucien Lalanne, 81, former mason. Saint-Orens-Pouy-Petit. Gers, Occitanie. Excerpt of the book: Amour, How The French Talk About Love, by Stefania Rousselle and published by Penguin Books. #AmourRoadTrip #AmourEtAlsphate #SurLaRoute #Amour #Love #Lovequotes #France #Roadtrip #Life #Jetaime #ShareTheLove #Amourbook #Amourthebook#penguinpress#vikinguk
Though your idealized image of picture-perfect French love may disappear while reading “Amour,” a swell of empathy for humanity will take its place. For one of the most romantic countries on earth, love is humanized, brought down to earth, and made earnest.