In this debut memoir, an American corporate trainer moves to Paris in search of a Lebanese beauty queen who may help her write a book.
Davidson, who was born Cynthia Fetterolf, had a unique upbringing in Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, and Lebanon that left her culturally aware, well traveled, and able to speak three languages. She became familiar with Arabic culture, and as an adult, she began a successful career as a cross-cultural trainer for corporate executives in New York City. But in 1970s Beirut, she experienced great trauma when her father was kidnapped twice and her younger sister narrowly survived a shooting. While on a 10-day trip to Paris in 1984, she was researching a novel—“an Arab version of Gone with the Wind,” as she puts it—based on the life of Georgina Rizk, a former Miss Lebanon and Miss Universe, who was widowed when her husband was killed by a car bomb. She hoped that talking to the pageant winner would help her understand her own past better. Rizk proved elusive, but the author’s fling with an Iraqi art dealer and her desire to write her book made her settle in Paris. She began to revisit key events in her past, and a new romance with a shadowy Tunisian driver named Omar gave her concerns about her future. Davidson’s belief that historical knowledge is the key to understanding contemporary problems results in a well-told, jet-setting memoir that spans decades and continents. The book is rather lengthy, but its seamless digressions will keep readers’ interest as Davidson recalls important years in her journey toward psychological and spiritual well-being. A vibrant parade of people moved in and out of her life, and her stories range in tone from joyful to harrowing. She also offers considerable cultural and political insight, and a little bit of romance, along the way, as well as an intriguing take on Paris as a place of refuge and healing.
A richly told memoir that’s steeped in history.