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Foreign Tongue: A Novel of Life and Love in Paris
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Foreign Tongue: A Novel of Life and Love in Paris

3.39  ·  Rating details ·  414 ratings  ·  91 reviews
Paris, the storybook capital of romance—of strolls down cobblestone streets and kisses by the Seine—may not be the ideal location to mend a wounded heart. But pragmatic professional writer Anna, who has been unlucky in love in L.A., has come here with keys to her aunt's empty apartment. Bilingual and blessed with dual citizenship, she seeks solace in the delectable pastrie ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published April 14th 2009 by Harper Perennial (first published April 1st 2009)
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3.39  · 
Rating details
 ·  414 ratings  ·  91 reviews

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I first learned of "Foreign Tongue" through an online advertisement a few years ago. My interest in it was further piqued by its focus on a young woman, with dual French/American citizenship (conversant in both French and English) and her experiences in Paris. As someone who has visited Paris twice over the past decade and lived and worked for a time abroad, I am drawn to stories that tie in culture, language, and human sensibilities.

Notwithstanding that, I had a lingering fear that this novel
Aug 06, 2009 rated it liked it
While this book is (sort of) touted as a romance,that wasn't what I found most enjoyable. More intriguing were Anna's thoughts about culture and language as she is working on the translation of the book. Because she is informally bi-lingual, meaning that she learned French from her family and studying abroad she has some interesting comments about the often untranslatable subtleties and nuances of meaning in a language. Anyone who has traveled or worked in a foreing country or tried to explain c ...more
Jul 03, 2010 rated it it was ok
***WARNING: This book is very vulgar.*** (Way, way, way too much for me, even if it is sporadic.)

This is perhaps the most difficult book review I’ve ever had to write, as my feelings are composed of such extremes. At first it delighted me, then repulsed me, then impressed and intrigued me, then annoyed me, and ultimately… disappointed me.

First off, allow me to praise the work. Vanina Marsot is an amazing writer—a compliment I rarely give out. Here lies her strength. She would describe delicate
If you love accurate descriptions of Paris, the French and their language, this book is probably worth your time. I enjoyed it as a fairly well written bit of fluff to read during a very high pressure time at work. However, everything concerning the main character's romantic problems was a notch below in writing quality. Two stars for the relationships, four stars for everything about Paris and the French resulted in a three star rating.
Elyse Rudin
Jun 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
Delightful book about a young woman who gets jilted by her actor boyfriend. She moves to her aunt's apartment in Paris and becomes a translator for a ficitious love story. She falls in love with a director and the story goes back and forth from the story to the woman's life in Paris. I enjoyed this book very much for it's lightness and yet well written prose. Felt as if I were in Paris.
Jun 22, 2009 rated it liked it
Picked this up on a whim at the library. A very light and entertaining read, with some substance in discussion of the particularities of French/English translation. On the Pastry References Scale, I'd give it cinques macarons. Some might also rate it highly on the Lingerie Mentions scale.
Jul 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
You know how sometimes you pick up a book, and it grabs you so tight you can't let go until the end? And then when it does end, you cry like a baby because you fell so deeply in love with each character, the loss is almost too great? Yeah. That.
May 13, 2009 rated it liked it
The Short of It:

If a Hollywood ending is not your thing, then this book is just what the doctor ordered.

My Thoughts:

Back in April, I was lucky enough to hear Vanina Marsot at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. When she discussed her book, Foreign Tongue–what she described intrigued me. When we think of Paris, we think of romance, beauty, food and wine. There's that, but there's also a grittier side that we normally do not read about and when I heard that, I knew that I had to read this boo
Sep 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
by Vanina Marsot

Where else but Paris could a woman, running away from a love betrayal, find comfort in the arms of old & new eclectic friends…accidently get a job translating a dramatic french, pornographic novel…and fall in love with a handsome theatrical producer!?! Art imitating life, or life imitating art, either way our author and translator take us through the streets of Paris not remiss of one taste of chocolat, pears or caffe, I enjoyed myself immensley and pay kudos for a well writt
Laura Leaney
May 31, 2010 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book. I think it's supposed to be a romance - and that's the somewhat cliched part of the narrative - but what's more fascinating is the narrator's observations about French language and culture. The bilingual Anna has been hired to translate the erotic novel of a writer whose identity remains a mystery to her, but the process of translation is very interesting. I didn't enjoy the narrator's problematic love life nearly as much as this aspect. At one point Anna’s friend is making ...more
Nov 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I really loved this book. The story was engaging, but I was more fascinated with how she dealt with the differences between French and English (languages and cultures). I have never read anything quite like this — with this particular approach to dissecting the languages and cultures.

Each chapter begins with a well-chosen quote in either French or English (she provides very good translations of the French quotes for those who need it, or for someone like me, who likes to see both versions presen
Joelle Anthony
Oct 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
I gave it 4 stars, but I'm pretty sure if I read the other reviews, I could be talked down to 3. But here are my thoughts without their influence....

If you've got no French, you'll miss a lot. If you've got some French like me, it's a challenging read, but I even got some of the jokes in French (at least, I think I did!) so it was kind of fun to discover I have more French than I thought. Still, it did make me a little bit tired at times.

I don't think subplot (the book she translates) adds much
Oct 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: recommend-it
I LOVED this book!!

From the perspective of a Francophile and language freak who hasn't seen Paris in a decade & just went through a nasty break up this book had elements that spoke to me all over the place.

I laughed aloud reading this book more than I have in a long time & I'm still giggling about the fact that one of the start-of-chapter quotations was the "royale with cheese" speech from Pulp Fiction.

Obviously the people who have difficulty listening to the self-destructive mental pro
Sep 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
If you are a francophile, you will love this book! The plot is no Da Vinci Code..but that is not what you read this book is for the love of France, the subtleties and complexities of foreign translation, and for the baguettes!! I studied abroad my junior year in France, and this book was able to absolutely bring me back to moments that I had forgotten. Through sensory description, Marsot was able to transport me to Paris, walking through Galeries Lafayette wearing Anais Anais; looking a ...more
Bob Kohn
Dec 19, 2010 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 30, 2011 rated it it was ok
This was a novel that I wanted to like, but it never generated much enthusiasm in me. I became bored with the main character, a young woman who is coming from a failed loved affair in Los Angeles and ends up in another one in Paris. I had no empathy for her; was I supposed to have had? The question didn't even interest me.
What kept me reading, though, to the end was the promise that something interesting would develop out of her occupation - translating chapter by chapter for an unknown autho
Mary Pat
Jun 16, 2009 rated it liked it
Young woman moves from LA to Paris to get over being dumped. Begins translating an "erotic novel". Falls in love with French guy. So, the erotic novel isn't that erotic, and I liked the parts about translation best. It was interesting looking at the intricacies of French and English language, the meaning carried by different words in different contexts. It has a weird and somewhat unsatisfying ending, like it started out as one kind of book and ended up being a different book entirely. The begin ...more
Ket Lamb
Nov 17, 2009 rated it liked it
After her boyfriend cheats on her, freelance writer and dual citizen, Anna, ditches L.A. for Paris to recover. Fluent in French and English, Anna soon lands a job translating an erotic love story, written by a famous author whose secret identity intrigues her. It isn't long before she also meets Olivier, a handsome French director who stirs her senses. But, this isn't your typical French confection. Art and life interweave as the novel Anna translates relates to her present. Through her work, An ...more
Jan 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
First of all, anyone who was raised bi-lingual — and not necessarily in the English/French, but in any combo — should read this book, even if only to be assured that all the reactions in your brain from constant hobnobbing of the two languages and the wondering if you are, in fact, the same person depending on which one of the languages you speak, are perfectly normal, and kind of fun! The second reason to read this book is that it really is lovely. A love story/mystery/linguistic study/chick-li ...more
Christine Brennen-leigh
Yet another book set in Paris. About a woman who escapes from a bad relationship by staying in her aunts apartment in Paris. While there she gets a job translating a novel (her father was French and she grew up speaking both French and English).

While the story itself was king of trite, I did like reading about the process of translating a book. I've read many translated books, and just figured that the words were what the author wrote, simply translated. But the book points out that it isn't th
Jan 01, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

I loved the perspective from the main character Anna being the product of a French father and an American mother. It was interesting to me when she analyzed her thought process using the two languages and two cultures. I enjoyed her reflections on language and culture, slang, customs, idioms, etc. What I didn't enjoy was the storyline! It was just 'ok.' I didn't enjoy the translated book selections.....not my type of reading. And in the end, I wondered what the point of the book was.
Jan 30, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: romance
What I really enjoyed about this book is the authors discussions on language and how it can shape our culture and can't always be translated easily, the meaning is lost. Some parts made me laugh out loud as I recognized some of her behaviour in myself!

I also loved her descriptions of France and the French and it made me want to go back to Paris immediately!

I think she is a good writer but that this is an average book. I'm sure she's capable of better. And without meaning to sound too British - t
Ilyhana Kennedy
Aug 29, 2015 rated it liked it
Reading this novel might be quite a different experience if you are able to speak French.
At times too, it feels more like a documentary about the art of translation. But then, within that, there are insights about culturally influenced expression that I appreciated.
It is a love story. Food and sex plump the pages.
I found the narrator somewhat irritating in her defensive churlishness, just as she herself expressed irritation at her author's narrator.
The conclusion was satisfying and a little surp
Feb 23, 2011 rated it liked it
I wish I could give this 3.5 stars. It started so strong and I was really engaged with the characters and the plot. It was a bit racy, but she is translating a French erotic novel, so it makes sense that it was racy. It made me wish I knew French. I liked the sense that I could relate to the character. The end just ruined the whole book for me. I felt like there was no closure. No questions were answered. Ugh. Just Ugh. I actually re-read the last few pages to make sure I didn't miss anything an ...more
Dianne Lipe
May 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
This story deals with a young girl who moves to Paris from California in order to help heal a broken heart. While in Paris, Anna works as a translator for an anonymous author. This novel, then, becomes a story within a story--the story of the book being translated and Anna's story. Throughout, all characters seem to be mostly miserable. I stuck with all 365 pages but not happily. There was quite a bit of French dialogue thoughout. I did enjoy the challenge of enterpreting the words myself.
Sep 07, 2011 rated it it was ok
It took me a very, very long time to finish this book. It was not so much that I had no time to read for pleasure this fall but rather that this book was really kind of dull and didn't inspire me to make time for it.
I originally wanted to read it because it was all about Paris and was heavy on the French words (it is after all, a book about a translator) but I just couldn't care about this rather whiny woman. And the ending "twist" is really well worn territory that I wasn't even surprised by i
Aug 14, 2009 rated it liked it
I picked this up at the library because I am a total Francophile. I'll pretty much read or watch anything set in France. The descriptions of Parisian life did not disappoint.

I would label it as intelligent chick lit. The "erotic novel" part was forgettable. The main character did get a bit whiny and was too privileged to feel sorry for.

However, it was worth the read. I agree with many other reviewers who point out that the passages on language and translation were very good. I would have liked
Jul 09, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 50-in-2009
I stuck it out through page after page of Anna whining about all the men that have hurt her, only to find an ending that doesn't feel like an ending. I actually had to go back and re-read the last five pages, thinking I missed something crucial. Nope, I didn't miss anything, just a poorly wrapped up story that didn't answer any of the questions I spent the first 350 pages asking.

I'm always willing to give a first novel a chance, but this one left me completely disappointed.
Jan 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: about-france
Found this one by chance in the library. A woman with an American mother and a French father gets jilted and leaves LA for Paris. She finds a job translating a somewhat erotic novel from French to English. The great strengths of this book are the descriptions of Paris venues and food, as well as the discussions of similarities and differences between French and English. The endong felt a bit abrupt, but otherwise a nice piece of Francophilia
Sep 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I wish more than anything this writer would pen another book - this one was excellent. The characters were rich and easy to identify with. Through her, the reader could feel the French experience for all its' intricacy. And I loved how, if you paid attention, you could learn a thing or two. The twist was absolutely smashing and I understand the abrupt ending - it absolutely broke my heart. But I read this book twice and most likely, I will read it again. Highly recommend!
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Vanina Marsot was raised in Cairo, Paris, and Los Angeles. Bilingual in English and French, she was raised by academic parents who instilled in her a keen passion for travel.

After completing her undergraduate degree at Swarthmore College, she moved to Paris, where she worked at Jean-Paul Gaultier, managed a commercial photography studio, and taught English to business executives.

Eventually, she
“Sometimes you don't get closure. Sometimes people leave and don't say goodbye.” 1 likes
“When running away, I recommend arriving with keys. Makes you feel like you're actually in control of the situation instead of on the lam from your life.” 0 likes
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