French Lessons is two books in one. In one sense, it is a linguistic autobiography, the story of her relationship with the French language from her childhood year in a Swiss boarding school through her current position as a professor at Duke University. In another, it is a psychological memoir, analysing how the author’s relationship with language developed from her experiences as a child, an adolescent, and finally an adult.In a piece about the difficulty of translating French Lessons into French, Kaplan has commented that she sees herself as occupying an in-between place, an intermediate spot between two languages and cultures. As such, her memoir will be of interest to anyone who has learned a second language or lived in a different culture. Whether it is her recollections of her initial attempts to learn French in Switzerland, her laborious efforts to perfect her linguistic skills and become a part of French culture as a university student in Bordeaux, or the intellectual passion for literature and teaching that has characterized her life as an adult, Kaplan’s experiences will strike a chord with readers who are themselves bilingual or bicultural, or who want to be.The only parts of French Lessons which seem less engaging to the general reader are the sections that deal with the strictly academic aspect of Kaplan’s language background. Her reflections on Céline and her study of French fascism that formed the basis of her Ph.D. dissertation are certainly relevant to her story. As one of her primary intellectual interests and also as the setting for a dramatic personal story, the author’s study of fascism and collaborationism certainly needs to be part of the book. However, the amount of detail involved, including accounts of university departmental politics, become a bit tedious to readers whose interests lie somewhere other than academe.Nonetheless, French Lessons is a fascinating account of an American’s love affair with the French language. Kaplan’s self-reflection provides a surprising insight into the role a second language can play in one’s life. It affects intellectual development, social activities, professional life. In fact, a second language weaves itself so thoroughly into the fabric of existence that it becomes part of every aspect of life. French Lessons is a book that I wish I’d thought of writing before Alice Kaplan did. But everyone’s story is unique, and so perhaps Kaplan’s greatest contribution is in inspiring her readers to consider and to appreciate the role of language in our own lives.