Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Fourth Friday Coffee Talks: January Wrap-Up

January's Coffee Talk was really fun. If you missed it, not to worry, Sue and Margie will be announcing their February Coffee Talk pick in the February newsletter. Mark your calendars for the Fourth Friday of each month, and join us for a casual discussion about a new book.

Our January pick was actually two books: Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick and The Ambassadors by Henry James. We were inspired to pick both because of the book flap for Foreign Bodies, which says that Ozick wanted to "retrace the story of Henry James's The Ambassadors - the work he considered his best - but as a photographic negative, in which the plot is the same but the meaning is reversed." That really made us curious to check out both books at once.

It probably helps to read The Ambassadors first. In both books, an "ambassador" is sent from the States to Paris to retrieve a young expatriate and convince him to return to the the States. In The Ambassadors, Henry James describes a cultured, refined Paris of the 1890's (and a cultured, refined older lover) that has worked its magic on the expatriate, seeming to make him a better person than he'd been before. Soon the magic starts to work on the ambassador as well, and no one wants to return to the States. Unfortunately, by the time Ozick's characters make it to Paris in the 1950's, the magic of Paris has been destroyed by war and despair. The "photographic negative" that Ozick creates is tragic and sad. However, after reading The Ambassadors, it is still a pleasure to follow the plot and to spot all of the instances in which the meaning and effect has been flip-flopped.

Both books are a recommended read for those who enjoy reading about Americans in Paris, and for any traveler who's ever had the thought: "hey, let's not go home, let's just stay here." I don't know about you, but I swear I have that thought at least once every trip.

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