****The Road from the Past
Traveling through History in France
by Ina Caro
Reviewed March 29, 2003.
A Harvest Book, Harcourt Brace & Company, San Diego, 1994.
Available at Sembach Library (914.4048 CAR).
A Sonderbooks’ Stand-out of 2003:
#3, Cross-Cultural Nonfiction
I know that France is not high in favor with most Americans these
days, but my husband and I had been planning to vacation in France this
Spring, and don’t want to give up the idea. In preparation, I
checked out this book, and I’ve been completely captivated.
The Road from the Past
is a combination history book, travel
book and travel memoir. Ina Caro takes the reader on a trip through
France, starting in Provence and moving north toward Paris. The
trip also starts in the time of the Roman empire and moves forward in
history to the Golden Age of King Louis XIV.
Ina Caro advocates traveling chronologically through a country.
It seems a wonderful idea, if you only know in what order things were
built. With this book, you can! Her strategy is summarized
in this paragraph: “Before leaving for this trip, I had assured
Bob that it would be possible to travel through almost two thousand years
of French history on a summer vacation while driving northwest from Provence
to Paris. I had mapped out the trip down to finding centrally located
hotels with swimming pools and tennis courts where we could stay while
visiting the different ages of France--provincial Rome in Provence, medieval
France and the Age of Faith in Languedoc, the beginning of the Hundred
Years War in the Dordogne Valley, the rise of the middle class and cathedrals
in Bourges, the end of the Hundred Years War and the evolution of the
French king from an elected first among equals to an absolute monarch
in the Loire Valley. Although my plan of following history in a
rented car had seemed like a great idea, I hadn’t been quite as certain
that the vacation itself would be enjoyable, and that, as we traveled,
we would really feel the passage of the centuries. But to my amazement,
so far it had worked: the first sixteen hundred years of the vacation
had been magical, and the only day of boredom was spent at a Peugeot repair
shop waiting for our time machine to have its air conditioner fixed.”
Obviously, my family can’t duplicate her journey across France
in one week. However, I was so taken with the book that I ordered
a copy for myself (despite the library’s perfectly good copy), so that
I can bring it on this vacation to part of the Loire Valley and, I hope,
on future vacations to other parts of France.
With a master’s degree in medieval history, Ina Caro makes the
history of France come alive. She points out specific signs of
the past that still exist today, while explaining the stories behind them.
Even if you never get a chance to visit France, this book makes French
history much easier to grasp, with vivid descriptions of the places and
people involved. Now, when we go to the Loire Valley, I won’t just
see a bunch of castles. Instead, I’ll see reminders of fascinating
people who lived in a time when the French king was consolidating his power.
The one thing I’d change about this book is that I’d love to see
it lavishly illustrated, preferably with photos. Now there are drawings
at the beginning of each section, but it would be so nice to see pictures
of the structures she describes. As it is, I guess I’ll have to
go to France and see for myself.
Copyright © 2003 Sondra Eklund.
All rights reserved.
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