Helynne's Reviews > Ariana: A Gift Most Precious

Ariana by Rachel Ann Nunes
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May 17, 2012

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Read in April, 2010

Ariana: A Gift Most Precious (1997) is the second of Rachel Nunes's Ariana quadrilogy about LDS members in Paris, and takes place four years after the end of Ariana: The Making of a Queen. Ariana and Jean-Marc have three children; Jean-Marc's brother Pierre and wife Paulette are expecting their second, but both parents have tragically been diagnosed with AIDS. The bright spot is that Paulette’s nurse Giselle and 22 of their African-French family members, including her elderly grandfather, agree to listen to the missionaries. Most of them convert including Giselle and her grandfather. Paulette’s hard-drinking mother, Simone will straighten out her life and be baptized as well in what I found to be an overly sentimental and simple conversion story. And, for the second time, Ariana recognizes that such success and “golden” attitudes are not the norm in her country. “In France, most missionaries were lucky to have this many investigators during the whole two years they served, never mind in one day” (295).
I cannot help but think that if this were a series about LDS members in France written by a French person, the baptismal rate would not be so high and there would be more discussion of discouragement and non-acceptance of the gospel by more people.
To segue between the problematics of attitudes and language, these novels often come up lacking in the brightness and brilliance of French color that should be an integral part of the story telling. There is a troublesome lack of the French language all through these books. It is not until the fourth book when Ariana’s daughter Josette is a student at BYU and giving French lessons to Provo high schooler Brionney, that we get so much as a bonjour. In all the books, there is ongoing use of the terms Mom, Dad and Grandma, where Maman, Papa, and Mamie would convey the relationship easily in the authentic French terms. After Paulette has passed away from AIDS, and Ariana and Jean-Marc have agreed to adopt Marie-Thérèse and baby Pauline, Pierre, who himself will soon die, suggests that his children refer to Paulette as Mommy and call Ariana Mom (393). Unfortunately, such a distinction does not exist in the French language. Everyone calls his/her mother Maman with no variation. Mamie, of course, means Grandma.
Other ways in which the French language could be introduced lightly and without confusion . . . . Parisians travel underground, but Nunes refers to the train as the subway instead of the métro, which would have added a little more French validity. Ailing father Pierre bonds with his infant daughter Pauline by singing her the song “Dites-Moi” translated into English as “Tell me Why.” This is problematic first, because the song is not an old French folk tune or lullaby, but rather, a translation into English of a song written by American lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II for South Pacific. Secondly, Hammerstein wrote the song in French (presumably with some help). It is sung in South Pacific in French, and it is never translated into English. The unlikelihood of the use of this song by the Perrault family nettles me (even though they are supposed to be singing it in French) and seeing it translated in English irritates me even more. I would have been much more comfortable with the use of an authentic French tune that children love such as “Au Claire de la Lune” or “Auprès de ma Blonde”—and in their original French. Or, if “Dites-Moi” is used, at least I would like to see it written down in French with a brief paraphrased translation in English.
And now for my gripes about the lack of French culture: We do get some interesting cultural color at the beginning of this book as Ariana and Paulette take their children on an excursion to the Canal Saint-Martin and make numerous references to the surrounding region’s importance during the French Revolution. Ariana also likes to walk along the Seine. Other than these references, mention of Parisian sights and cultural color are rare. The Eiffle Tower—the most famous and recognizable French landmark of all—does not even appear until book four. Early in A Gift Most Precious, Ariana admits she usually serves croissants and hot chocolate for breakfast, but this day she is frying eggs for Jean-Marc for breakfast –“a habit Jean-Marc has acquired from one of his American missionary companions” (168). Even though Nunes qualifies Jean-Marc’s preference this way, this breakfast is just too un-French for me. I would prefer to see Jean-Marc eating a small container of yogurt or spreading jam—confiture au framboises—on a big slice of baguette. A few pages later, Grandma Joséphine is letting a cake cool in preparation for icing it for the children (190). An iced cake is not completely out of the realm of French cuisine, but it still sounds too Americanized to me. Could not Mamie Joséphine be stuffing cream puffs –choux de crème –or ladling crêpe batter on to a pan? Later, Ariana grabs a roll and bites through the flaky crust to the inner white (358). The roll is obviously a croissant. Why did she not say that?
In this same tome, Ariana finds her mother and mother-in-law Louise serving a “breakfast of juice and hot mush to the twins” (277). Hot mush?!?!? Now I know that in France, one can buy flocons or farine d’avoine, which means oatmeal and semoule de blé, which is like Cream of Wheat, and there might well be French mothers who feed those hot cereals to their children for breakfast. However, how much more typically and colorfully French it would have been to see the Perrault children making tartines by spreading butter on slices of baguette or, better yet, slathering them with Nutella, sticking their fingers in the jar, getting chocolate all over their fingers and faces. Again, these criticisms probably would not matter to anyone except fussy Francophiles like myself. I am glad Nunes has included a French family in her prolific repertoire of novels about LDS people. I only wish I could read the Ariana series with fewer groans about their lack of quintessential Frenchness.

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