How to be a Homeless Frenchman…in Wellesley

Wellesley’s Paula Lee has self-published a comic novel called How to be a Homeless Frenchman that includes a couple of chapters about our town in addition to a story that involves everything from Nazis to a lion tamer to the Blues. Copies of the book will be sold at Wellesley Books starting this month, and according to Lee, the book has already been circulating through a few book groups.

paula lee wellesley

Lee, a faculty fellow at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts, says the book is based on the real-life adventures of her brother-in-law, who lived for 20 years as a happy street musician in Boston. She says: “The events related are true, though the timeline has been condensed. His Senegalese grandfather really was a lion tamer, his French grandfather was awarded the Legion of Honor (Legion d’honneur) for his work as a leader of the Resistance, and his mother died of paranoid schizophrenia, having lost her sanity in the Dresden bombings.”

Lee worked on the book for four years while juggling plenty of other activities, including the publishing of a few academic books.

As for the Wellesley angle in the book, Lee says: “Right after [the Frenchman] arrives in the US, speaking very little English, he gets invited to live with a gorgeous college girl who, it turns out, lives in a giant house in Wellesley. He has no idea why she asks him — a total stranger — to live with her, but he accepts, as it is better than a dorm, and it’s free. He finds himself amazed by life in the suburbs, and ends up nude sunbathing with Swedish nannies and doing battle with a raccoon.”

Yup, sounds like Wellesley!

Lee, an historian specializing in modern France and the US, describes the book’s style as being as if Paolo Coelo’s The Alchemist were retold by David Sedaris. “I draw on my experiences living in France and as a New England native, using humor to illuminate the quirks of both cultures,” she says.