Title: A Visit From Voltaire
Author: Dinah Lee Küng
Publisher: Peter Halban Publishers Ltd
Publication Date: March 18th 2004
Paperback: 360 pages
When an American mother-of-three finds herself overwhelmed in her new home in Switzerland, a visitor pops up offering to cure her son’s asthma, her husband’s growing indifference, and her own resentment of life. Is he the village nutter or – as he claims – the greatest mind of the eighteenth century?
This talkative character wearing a wig and kneebreeches is the last straw. Though she begs him to go home, he unpacks his mouldy trunk instead. Slowly V. becomes her warmest friend as they laugh and quarrel, and he teaches her the best lesson of all – how to live life to its fullest.
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.
Born in Detroit, Dinah Lee Küng worked for twenty years as a reporter in the Far East for The Economist, BusinessWeek, International Herald Tribune and The Washington Post. She now lives in Switzerland with her husband, a veteran of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and their three children. For more information, please visit the author’s website.
Dinah Lee Küng was kind enough to send me a free copy of A Visit From Voltaire for review. Receiving a free copy in no way reflected my review of aforementioned novel.