I read Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sonntag, and Angela Davis by Alice Kaplan a few years ago, and about halfway through the last chapter I had my mind blown. It was such a life-changing perspective that I still think about that book to this day. Has that ever happened to you? Just reading along, happily enjoying your book, and all of a sudden a life changing concept hits you?! No? Crickets? That’s just me… Well, we’ll pretend it’s not.
The book is laid out with one chapter (broken into sections) is dedicated to the background of each lady and their time in France, with a second chapter (broken into sections again) on their years after their study abroad and how their lives were influenced by the culture, the language, and their experiences in France (Paris).
What Really Made Me Think
I am a firm believer that things will happen when they are meant. I wish I would have known though that studying abroad in college was not just a nebulous concept, but a real opportunity. It could have opened my world view so much sooner, but that’s a story for another time. What really struck me reading these stories, is how relatively recent in history they are.
Sure- most of them didn’t necessarily happen in my life time, but they did happen in my parents, and grandparents lifetimes. Like most American kids in the Millennial or Gen Y age group will always know where they were when they heard about 9/11, our parents and grandparents have the Kennedy assassination and WW2. These were huge- life changing events in the US, as well as other parts of the world. Major things were happening in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Many of our parents and grandparents were alive and experienced these things first hand, and yet, (at least in my) day to day life- no one talks about them.
It’s crazy to me. You can probably ask anyone, who was over the age of 10, living in America in November of 1963, and they can tell you exactly where they were when they heard about the Kennedy assassination. Go ahead- I’ll wait. You’re back? Good. They knew, didn’t they. Why does no one talk about these things? I have several family members who grew up in Southern California in the early 70’s. The Soledad Brothers, the Black Panthers, hell- most Gen Y parents were alive during the better part of the Civil Rights movement. How did they feel about it? Did it ever affect them directly?
I’ve also spent a lot of time lately thinking about one of my grandmothers. She was born in France, and if my calculations are right, was raised during the Nazi occupation. She passed away about 8 years ago, but there are so many things I wish I could ask her. So many things I wish I could talk to her about. We just passed once again, the anniversary of D-Day. How would she feel about me living in Germany now? And not just Germany, but the center of the Nazi party. Did she forgive and forget as the saying goes? Would it bother her? So many things I wish I knew.
I understand that many of these topics are painful and awkward to talk about, but I think it needs to happen anyway. These were huge learning experiences for the world, but what was the point if later generations don’t learn and end up repeating them. Eventually everyone passes away, and some sooner than others. There will come a time, when we can’t ask anymore because there is no one around to answer.
And on that super depressing note… Have you ever had a book that changed your outlook?