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A Visit From Voltaire by Dinah Lee Küng
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A Visit From Voltaire (edition 2011)

by Dinah Lee Küng

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463383,764 (3.81)1
""I overheard you downstairs just then, when you referred to me as 'Nobody.' You now stand corrected. You may apologize."" "No, her intruder is hardly a Nobody. In fact, when an ordinary American reporter and mother of three, recently arrived in a small village in Switzerland, finds herself with a loony claiming to be the Greatest Mind of the Eighteenth Century, she pleads herself unworthy and begs him to go home." "But he doesn't, and over the next nine months her stubborn visitor will become her warmest friend, unfailing mentor and most frustrating intellectual foil. V. turns out to be a man of sparkling intelligence with a boundless interest in politics, philosophy, drama, and good gossip. He's an excellent raconteur, boasting knowledge of every subject under the sun, including his hostess' new neighborhood outside Geneva." "The two friends exchange tales of their respective pasts - stories of love, mystery, success, and failure, stories of heartbreak and courage, reminiscences roaming from London to Potsdam, Hollywood to Hong Kong. Determined to teach the author l'art de vivre, he puts her experiences as a mother, a writer, a wife, and an immigrant into a new perspective, both wise and humorous." "However, V. also has his downside. Ever-keen on science, he joyfully embraces modern technology and before long he's clogging her e-mail, bankrupting her credit cards and making a new name for himself with a web-site, L'Infame.org - in short becoming the Houseguest from Hell." "This mismatched couple survive their first winter by talking, laughing and quarreling across the centuries, across differences in politics, religion and sexual expectations. But by the end, it is the author's turn to sustain V. as he re-lives his own last days; shaken by what he discovers but resourceful as ever, he remains witty to the end."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)
Member:inkstain
Title:A Visit From Voltaire
Authors:Dinah Lee Küng
Info:Eyes and Ears (2011), Edition: 3, Kindle Edition
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:comedy, love, friendship, witty, France, Voltaire, family life, paranormal romance, time travel

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A Visit from Voltaire by Dinah Lee Küng

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Dinah Lee Küng brings Voltaire to life in her uproariously delightful novel, A Visit From Voltaire. It should not go without saying; this novel was long listed for the Orange Prize in Fiction in 2004, a nomination well deserved. The tale begins with an exhausted mother, truly is there another kind, yet in all seriousness she, her Swiss husband Peter and their three children have relocated from Manhattan to the small Swiss town of St-Cergue where absolutely nothing has gone as planned. The contractors are over-budget, the narrator's husband Peter tends toward laissez faire attitude toward life, the children are ill and there is the schooling to think of, to top all of that off many of the belongings that were supposed to have arrived did not. What does appear one evening is a dapper man dressed in 18th century attire, a M. François Marie Arouet, Seigneur de Tournay et Ferney also known as V. The stressed out narrator has concluded she has lost her mind and is not all so certain it is a bad thing to have happened. V makes a most formidable friend to this outsider who misses her country, all that is familiar and who desperately needs to learn French, or at least have a translator. The characters are extremely likeable, the novel is brilliantly detailed and one cannot help but become engrossed in A Visit From Voltaire. V, along with our narrator, helps bring to light serious social injustices as well as the more mundane, yet equally important issues of parenting and family life. Dinah Lee Küng's novel makes for a delightful, witty and enlightening read. ( )
  knittingmomof3 | Jan 2, 2010 |
Listed as one of "111 Best Works of Metafiction" here:
http://ronaldbrichardson.com/metafiction/list-of-metafictional-works/

This is the best review that describes the book, as I see it, by Shirley Curran in BOOK MY PLACE, GenevaLunch
Chuckling out loud after only a few paragraphs, I had no doubt at all about why Dinah Lee Küng’s A Visit from Voltaire was on the list of potential Orange Prize winners in 2004. Her early chapters plunge us into a world that is so familiar; the world of the immigrant into the closed society of a small Swiss village. St Cergue is evoked with its railway snaking up through the village, its families who have lived there since the days of Voltaire and its traditional Vaudois ways of shutting out foreigners and all they stand for.

With the narrator, we struggle with the carpenter’s bills which consume all the family’s savings, the Swiss requirements that preclude the placing of an ‘island’ in the kitchen, the wildcats that nest in the roof insulation and the vagaries of the Swiss school system.

Poor, honest Alexander’s academic future is almost curtailed when he is the only child who doesn’t run away after the group of school children have accidentally set a stationary train in motion.

Into this wonderfully familiar world steps an uninvited guest who accompanies the narrator through most of the remainder of her first year in St Cergue. Husband, Peter, is busy with his Red Cross work but Voltaire compensates for his absence. Consuming litres of coffee and mastering the fax machine, the Internet and the telephone, Voltaire, a lively ghost, continues the literary and humanitarian work that occupied his lifetime two centuries earlier. We witness his hilarious response to the parent-teacher meeting and relive, with him, his rich libertine lifestyle.

The narrator’s own real involvement with modern political causes is interspersed with Voltaire’s narrative so that we touch on the unjustified imprisonment of Xu Wenli, the Chinese democracy activist and the human rights struggle for Dr Shaikh in Pakistan.

V is a whimsical and endearing companion who is an invaluable help to the narrator in her struggle to come to terms with her state as an emotional and cultural castaway in an alien environment. He teaches her how to live life to the fullest. However, he is a demanding and expensive guest who ages as the narrative develops. He has to go. His initial departure leaves too many questions unresolved, but a delightful finale awaits the reader.

This novel is astonishingly rich in so many ways. The local area of the Geneva basin is evoked with St Cergue coming alive for us even to the 50 bends of the road up from the Geneva basin, and life in the UN and in the foreign community of Hong Kong. The author’s encyclopaedic knowledge of Voltaire’s life and works makes him a convincing figure in the 21st century as well as ‘La Lumière’ – the light of his own century... a good tip for Christmas reading. ( )
  A.Gables | Dec 3, 2009 |
A Visit from Voltaire is a book enriched in history and fun banter. First of all I had no idea who Voltaire was and that he was actually a real person. What first drew me to the book was the thought of a frazzled mother and wife learning how to enjoy life from a french ghost circa 1700's . What I got was much more, the stories that the Voltaire would tell was a look into history, and he sure did a lot of name dropping, but that is the nature of Voltaire. He is full of energy, and has a zest for life which becomes contagious.

The flow of the book was my only problem with A Visit from Voltaire. At times I felt the momentum slow down, and it would start to get a tad boring, but then it would pick up again. Throughout the whole book it fluctuates between really interesting to stale. In the end though the book did put a smile to my face. I want my own Voltaire.

All in all I thought A Visit from Voltaire is a interesting book with flair ( )
  jjameli | Dec 3, 2009 |
Showing 3 of 3
After chuckling out loud after only a few paragraphs, I had no doubt at all about why Dinah Lee Küng’s A Visit from Voltaire was on the list of potential Orange Prize winners in 2004. Her early chapters plunge us into a world that is so familiar; the world of the immigrant into the closed society of a small Swiss village. St Cergue is evoked with its railway snaking up through the village, its families who have lived there since the days of Voltaire and its traditional Vaudois ways of shutting out foreigners and all they stand for.

With the narrator, we struggle with the carpenter’s bills which consume all the family’s savings, the Swiss requirements that preclude the placing of an ‘island’ in the kitchen, the wildcats that nest in the roof insulation and the vagaries of the Swiss school system.

Poor, honest Alexander’s academic future is almost curtailed when he is the only child who doesn’t run away after the group of school children have accidentally set a stationary train in motion.

Into this wonderfully familiar world steps an uninvited guest who accompanies the narrator through most of the remainder of her first year in St Cergue. Husband, Peter, is busy with his Red Cross work but Voltaire compensates for his absence. Consuming litres of coffee and mastering the fax machine, the Internet and the telephone, Voltaire, a lively ghost, continues the literary and humanitarian work that occupied his lifetime two centuries earlier. We witness his hilarious response to the parent-teacher meeting and relive, with him, his rich libertine lifestyle.

The narrator’s own real involvement with modern political causes is interspersed with Voltaire’s narrative so that we touch on the unjustified imprisonment of Xu Wenli, the Chinese democracy activist and the human rights struggle for Dr Shaikh in Pakistan.

"V." is a whimsical and endearing companion who is an invaluable help to the narrator in her struggle to come to terms with her state as an emotional and cultural castaway in an alien environment. He teaches her how to live life to the fullest. However, he is a demanding and expensive guest who ages as the narrative develops. He has to go. His initial departure leaves too many questions unresolved, but a delightful finale awaits the reader.

This novel is astonishingly rich in so many ways. The local area of the Geneva basin is evoked with St Cergue coming alive for us even to the 50 bends of the road up from the Geneva basin, and life in the UN and in the foreign community of Hong Kong. The author’s encyclopaedic knowledge of Voltaire’s life and works makes him a convincing figure in the 21st century as well as ‘La Lumière’ – the light of his own century.

A great read with a little more substance than most contemporary novels. Amazon have copies and Books Books Books too, so it is a good tip for Christmas reading.

Review by Shirly Curran
© Geneva Lunch 2009
 
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