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Readers recommend: The best books, TV series and podcasts about France

We asked our readers for their recommendations for books, films, TV series and podcasts about France and the French - here are some of the best.

Readers recommend: The best books, TV series and podcasts about France
There are some excellent books available all about France. Photo: AFP

So if you’re looking forward to some down time over the holidays, here are some recommendations for entertainment, from heavyweight political biographies to funny TV shows and podcasts about the intricacies of the French language.

Books

Love or hate him, few can deny that French President Emmanuel Macron is an interesting character, and his achievement of creating a political party from nothing and ascending to the highest office in the land within two years was quite a feat.

There are plenty of books about him and modern French politics, but Sarah Jackson recommended Adam Plowright’s book The French Exception: “Macron’s rise is an extraordinary story and the author tells it well.

“You’ll also learn a lot about France – such as the moment when Macron becomes enraged with a protester because he insists on addressing him with the informal “tu” form. I couldn’t put it down.”

Here at The Local we also enjoyed Sophie Peddar’s book Revolution française, which focuses on his rise to power and early days in office.

As a foreigner in France, often feeling a little lost, it’s comforting to know that others have been through this before, and some of them have written very funny books about it.

Stephen Clarke’s classic A Year in the Merde got several recommendations and Jeremy Mercer’s Time was Soft There – a paean to the Paris landmark bookstore Shakespeare & Co – was also recommended.

Margaret O’Hare suggested: “‘Big Pig, Little Pig’ by Jacqueline Yallop. A beautiful read, adored by the Francophiles in my life that I have given it to. My husband isn’t a great reader but even he gobbled it up. It is both a debunking and a celebration of life in rural France. Meat-eating foodies will be enthral to the end.

“In fact it’s a sort of modern ‘A Year in Provence’ which I read for the first time only recently and was delighted to discover that it has aged very well. A slightly mischievous paean to the glorious French psyche.”

And of course anything relating to French cooking is also popular, with Margaret adding: “I forgot to mention Felicity Cloake’s ‘One More Croissant for the Road’ a delightful canter around France à velo in pursuit of culinary perfection in regional specialities (plus the odd croissant). Part road-trip, part recipe book, part love-letter to the French lunchtime, it is a witty and easy read.”

Another tip for food and history lovers was A Bite-Sized History of France by Stephane Hinaut, which “combines stories about French food and history. A great book for a Francophile,” says Julia Gray.

The Greater Journey by David McCullough was recommended for anyone interested in history, while here at The Local we loved Anne Sebba’s book Les Parisiennes – about how the women of Paris coped with war, occupation and its aftermath in the 1940s – and the astonishing Resistance story A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorhead.

For French-speakers we can also highly recommend journalist Valentin Gendrot’s book Flic, describing the year he spent working undercover as a police officer in France.

Box sets

Winter is the perfect time to snuggle up with a good TV series or box set and many of our readers recommended Bureau des Legends, with Sarah Jackson saying: “We got completely hooked on this in the last lockdown and binged on the first four series. It’s about the French secret service. The acting and scripting are both exceptional, with lead Mathieu Kassovitz being particularly good.” 

In a similar vein, at The Local we loved Engrenages (released in the UK as Spiral) about the work of a French police unit in the grittier areas of Paris.

READ ALSO ‘Vile snobs’: Why are the French so annoyed about Emily in Paris?

A classic historical series also recommended multiple times was Un Village Français, with Kim Sieminskie saying: “It shows all sides of World War II. The French are not all good, not just the obvious collaborators, but the every day people who have to made hard choices; the Germans aren’t all bad or evil. It is compelling and the characters are so interesting….. I loved it!”

On a lighter note – many people also recommended Dix Pour Cent (released in English as Call My Agent) which as well as being very funny also gives you a crash course in French celebs as many of the big names in French cinema and music make cameo appearances as themselves.

Another funny French offering on Netflix is Au Service de la France, set among France’s secret services in the 1960s as the country slowly lets go of its colonies.

READ ALSO The best Netflix series that will teach you French as the locals speak it

Podcasts

The French podcast market has flourished the past couple of years and for someone looking for something French-themed to listen to, our readers also had good suggestions.

Julia Gray recommended Paris-centred podcast the Earful Tower, hosted by former Local journalist Oliver Gee, saying: “He takes listeners on walks throughout Paris and interviews a wide range of Parisians. He also does some Facebook live events.”

While Rebecca Bright recommended The French Revolution section of Mike Duncan’s Revolutions podcast.

Anyone keen to discover new parts of France can sign up for Join Us In France Travel podcast, of which one listener said “I learn so much”.

 

She also recommended The Thing About France, which sees France through American eyes. The podcast compares French and American culture, history and relationship through interviews with Americans authors, journalists and others. In one episode, feminist icon Gloria Steinem discusses the difference between French and American feminism.

For those who want to get all the week’s main news stories about France compressed down to a half-hour, The Local recommends Spotlight on France, hosted by two RFI journalists, Sarah Elzas and Alison Hird. A new episode is out every Thursday.

READ ALSO: The 10 best things about Paris that the movies never show

Other recommendations were Dinner For One, which is hosted by a New Yorker living in Paris and according to the description explores what happens “when the Paris fairytale ends and real life begins”.

For French speakers, we also recommend Kiffe ta race, a great listen for anyone interested in race and racism in France. One of the hosts is Rokhaya Diallo, one of the most famous anti-racism activists in France.

One reader recommended France Culture’s radio programme Les Pieds Sur Terre, which is later released as a podcast, saying it was a French version of This American Life.

 

Not strictly about France, but The Europeans is an interesting podcast that covers quite a lot of French issues, since one of its co-hosts lives and works in Paris.

READ ALSO 12 popular French films that teach you something about France

Media subscriptions

And for a gift that keeps giving all year, don’t forget media subscriptions.

Many readers were kind enough to suggest The Local (and we do offer gift subscriptions, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page) but other popular recommendations were The Good Life France, France Today; Bonjour Paris and language site Frantastique.

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CULTURE

Asterix: Five things to know about France’s favourite character

Asterix is hitting the box offices again, so to celebrate here's a look at France's most treasured hero.

Asterix: Five things to know about France's favourite character

If you have walked past a bus stop anywhere in France in recent weeks, then you have likely run into film posters advertising Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom.

Starring high-profile French actors Marion Cotillard and Vincent Cassel, France’s film industry is hoping that this film, capitalising on France’s nostalgic relationship with the comic series “Asterix” will bring box office success.

The Asterix comic book series was first published in 1959, and tells the story of a small Gallic village on the coast of France that is attempting to defend itself from invaders, namely the Romans. Asterix, the hero of the series, manages to always save the day, helping his fellow Gauls keep the conquerors at bay.

As the beloved Gaulish hero makes his way back onto the big screen, here are five things you should know about France’s cherished series:

Asterix is seen as the ‘every day’ Frenchman

“Asterix brings together all of the identity-based clichés that form the basis of French culture”, Nicolas Rouvière, researcher at the University of Grenoble-Alps and expert in French comics, told AFP in an interview in 2015.

READ MORE: Bande dessinée: Why do the French love comic books so much?

The expert wrote in his 2014 book “Obelix Complex” that “the French like to look at themselves in this mirror [of the Asterix series], which reflects their qualities and shortcomings in a caricatured and complacent way”.

Oftentimes, the French will invoke Asterix – the man who protected France from the Roman invaders – when expressing their resistance toward something, whether that is imported, American fast food or an unpopular government reform.

The front page of French leftwing newspaper Libération shows President Emmanuel Macron as a Roman while Asterix and his team are the French people protesting against pension reform.

The figure of ‘a Gaul’ is a popular mascot for French sports teams, and you’ll even see people dressed up as Asterix on demos. 

A man dressed as Asterix the Gaul with a placard reading “Gaul, Borne breaks our balls” during a protest over the government’s proposed pension reform, in Paris on January 31, 2023. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)

Asterix is the second best-selling comic series

The series has had great success in France since it was first launched in 1959, originally as Astérix le Gaulois. It has also been popular across much of Europe, as the series often traffics in tongue-in-cheek stereotypes of other European nations – for example, caricaturing the English as fans of lukewarm beer and tasteless foods.

Over the years, Asterix has been translated into more than 100 languages, with at least 375 million copies sold worldwide.

It remains the second best-selling comic series in the world, after the popular manga “One Piece”.

There is an Asterix theme park 

The French love Asterix so much that they created a theme park, located just 22 miles north of Paris, in the comic series’ honour in 1989.

The park receives up to two million visitors a year, making it the second most visited theme park in France, after Disneyland Paris. With over 40 attractions and six themed sections, inspired by the comic books, the park brings both young and old visitors each year. 

READ MORE: Six French ‘bandes dessinées’ to start with

The first French satellite was named after Asterix

As Asterix comes from the Greek word for ‘little star’, the French though it would be apt to name their first satellite, launched in 1965 after the Gaulish warrior.

As of 2023, the satellite was still orbiting the earth and will likely continue to do so for centuries to come.

Asterix’ co-authors were from immigrant backgrounds

Here’s become the ‘ultimate Frenchman’, but both creators of the Asterix series were second-generation French nationals, born in France in the 1920s to immigrant parents.

René Goscinny created the Asterix comic series alongside illustrator Albert Uderzo. Goscinny’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland. Born in Paris, René’s family moved to Argentina when he was young and he was raised there for the majority of his childhood. As for Albert Uderzo, his parents were Italian immigrants who settled in the Paris region.

Goscinny unexpectedly died at the age of 51, while writing Asterix in Belgium. From then on, Uderzo took over both writing and illustrating the series on his own, marking Goscinny’s death in the comic by illustrating dark skies for the remainder of the book.

In 1985, Uderzo received one of the highest distinctions in France – the Legion of Honour. Uderzo retired in 2011, but briefly came out of retirement in 2015 to commemorate the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists who were murdered in a terror attack by drawing two Asterix pictures honouring their memories.

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