John von Sothen fell in love with Paris through the stories his mother told of her year spent there as a student. And then, after falling for and marrying a French waitress he met in New York, von Sothen moved to Paris. The author walks us through real life in Paris--not only myth-busting our Parisian daydreams but also revealing the inimitable and too often invisible pleasures of family life abroad.
... while von Sothen’s vibrant memoir is often humorous, he is also a thoughtful observer of politics and modern family life, including the pain of living far from elderly parents and the unique perspective that comes from being an outsider. As his wife, Anais, tells the author, 'We critique best what we love the most.' And that is definitely true for Monsieur Mediocre.
Von Sothen is both laugh-out-loud funny and tender, the latter especially in poignant essays about his parents, an artist and a newsman, who had him late in life. The problem, if it can be called one, is that even without fantasy, von Sothen’s Paris comes across as pretty fantastic, a vibrant, genuine place he clearly feels lucky to call home.
... offers dozens of inside-baseball insights into a place that continues to mystify and enchant ... despite the fact that both families boast aristocratic backgrounds, which von Sothen seems mildly obsessed with — it remains annoyingly unclear how he affords the country house near Normandy, the membership to the chichi 'pony club,' the urban square footage that inspires a neighborhood kid to ask how he 'became a millionaire,' and the weeks-long vacations to Italy. Of course, that’s not the point ... in any case, von Sothen offers some delicious, uniquely French details about all those tony trappings ... Von Sothen offers some incisive takes on French politics ... Occasional flashes of snootiness read as more than a little tone deaf. Then again — what’s a book about the French without a little well-meaning snobbery?