Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Bonnes vacances! book review

A recent read of mine has been Bonnes Vacances!: A Crazy Family Adventure in the French Territories by Rosie Millard. I'd heard about - but have never been able to see - the series "Croissants in the Jungle" broadcast on The Travel Channel in 2010 and this is the book written by the Millard family who made the series.

Rosie Millard, her husband Pip, and their three youngest children (the fourth joins them halfway through) set out from London on a 4-month tour of the French Overseas Departments and Territories to make a documentary series. In order they visit St Pierre & Miquelon, Martinique, French Guiana, French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Réunion. They skip Guadeloupe (no explanation is given - presumably because time was at a premium and it was considered too similar to Martinique?), and no mention of Mayotte is made at all.

Front cover

The idea is good - making these French overseas départements and territories better known to the outside world, although apparently it was difficult to find a TV channel willing to back the idea ("It's too French"). I was sometimes astonished at what Rosie was surprised at but then I realised that her knowledge of the DOM-TOMs was probably filtered by what information was available in English, which is not a lot. The book is a mix of investigation into the DOM-TOMs and a family adventure; the two themes sometimes sit uneasily side by side. I also got an over-riding feeling that Ms Millard was bothered that France has these overseas territories and départements.

Reunion was unfortunately the last place visited. I say 'unfortunately' because by the end of their trip the family - especially the children -seem desperate to go home, and for example part of the short Réunion chapter is taken up with a discussion about what they were most looking forward to back to the UK. So although "Réunion is the most gorgeous of all the French confetti" (page 295) and is also the most populated it gets treated in much less detail than the other territories (seventeen pages in a 312-page book). Consequently there's no mention of the fact that Réunion had no indigenous population when it was settled, or that it has an unique ethnic mix. (Reunion) Creole does get a mention though.

Throughout the book there are also a number of grammar and spelling mistakes in English and French (e.g. 'Britanny' or 'Le Ferme d'Ouest') which should have been picked up at the proofreading stage, and some factual mistakes (e.g. "neck-deep in foaming, hot water 6,000 metres up on a volcano in the Indian Ocean", page 309).

If you're not familiar with the DOM-TOM you'll probably learn a lot. If you do already know them you might enjoy the family romp. In any case it's interesting to see these little pieces of France through British eyes, warts and all.


Rosie Millard & youngest child on Réunion (source)

P.S. Talking about France's DOM-TOMs, did you know that France is the country in the world with the most time zones? And that if you include all of France’s overseas dependencies and territories, France borders 34 independent countries, or 43 countries and dependent territories - a world record (see here).


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