For me, hallmarks of a good book are that I never want to put it down, can’t wait to get back to it when I do, feel personally connected to the characters and laugh out loud while reading. Dinah Lee Kung’s A Visit from Voltaire hits all these marks and adds another: the book made me want to find out more about the charming visitor who dominates the story. Despite my own French heritage and years of studying the language, I was embarrassingly ignorant about the life of Voltaire. No more — this book made me hungry to find out as much as possible. When I did, I also became aware of how deft and accurate the author was at incorporating him into the story. But I am getting ahead of myself…
Having just moved to Switzerland with her husband and three children, the author struggles with a full-blown case of culture shock. She doesn’t speak the language, misses New York City with an aching homesickness and is having the farmhouse where her family lives torn apart by costly, attitude-heavy locals. She is also struggling to maintain her sanity as a stay-at-home mom trying to finish a mystery novel. Oh yeah, it’s possible her marriage is also collapsing around her.
In the midst of the chaos, the natty ghost of one Francois-Marie Arouet taking up residence in her home office and begins dispensing anecdote-laden advice. He flounces in early but it takes his new hostess — who he addresses formally throughout as “Madame” — a while to guess his better known identity or pen name-Voltaire, V for short. A large part of the charm and momentum in this book is derived from V. True to form he is witty, articulate, fascinating and has a wardrobe to die for. “A debonair approach is always the mark of someone in control,” he informs his hostess at one point.
Fortunately, the author knows her star and lets him shine. V’s wonderful sensibilities orchestrate many of her successful adjustments to her new life and I found myself wanting my own ghost of Voltaire. His bon mots, personal and political, are refreshing and inspirational and I could really use that voice guiding me through some tough transitions of my own. The country of Switzerland also comes through as a colorful addition to the story, vividly displayed through the eccentric personalities of its inhabitants.
All in all, Madame manages to weave together past and present, and real life and vivid imagination in an engaging, highly entertaining and informative comic novel.
Please visit Dinah Lee Kung’s website for more information.
Amelie lives and works on a pond in Cape Cod. She shares her home with her husband and two sons and both reads and writes whenever possible. Her ‘day job’ is in social services.
This book was provided free of any obligation by Dinah Lee Kung. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.