I loved Thad Carhart’s previous nonfiction book, The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, so I picked this up out of curiosity. I’m so glad I did! Finding Fontainebleau: An American Boy in France is part memoir, part culture, part history, and all delight. Carhart’s father, an air force pilot in WWII, was stationed in Fontainebleau, France for three years in the 1950s. He along with his wife and five children lived in the town not far from the chateau of the same name, which has clearly captured Carhart’s heart.
Well written without being pretentious, Finding Fontainebleau is like sitting down with a good storyteller who leans back and quietly regales you with, Let me tell you about the time my family drove to Rome and camped out on the way there. Bits of French history related to its royalty’s relationship with Chateau Fontainebleau find their way into Carhart’s memoirs, as do his more recent trips to see how the Chateau is being restored. I often referred to the hand-drawn map of the castle, but I wish there had been pictures of the inside of the castle. Photos from Carthart’s family’s stay in Fontainebleau would have been fun, too.
That being said, this book completely took me in. I felt as if I were right there in Carhart’s classroom as he learned how to hold his fountain pen, played marbles in the schoolyard, and visited post-war Paris with his family. Through Carhart’s sketches I also gained a better appreciation for the deep wounds that World War II left across Europe and the resilience of those who survived.
So sit down with a baguette and a nice glass of wine. This book is a quiet gem.