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Book Reviews
July 2020

Bringing the Art of Storytelling From Podcast to Print

No matter how serious the dilemma, “Paris On Air” invites readers to find humor and comfort in the author’s misfortune.

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Everyday, the Canal Saint Martin hosts lovers, lonely strollers, and evening drinkers, but what about crocodiles? It’s the kind of question the fearlessly (and perhaps sometimes absurdly) inquisitive Oliver Gee has made a living asking for his podcast, “The Earful Tower,” which now has over one million downloads. Now, the Australian expat has written a chronicle of his French life, “Paris on Air.”

The story of how Gee learned about the myth of crocodiles in the Canal Saint-Martin epitomizes the gleeful spirit of this memoir. In “Paris On Air​,” Gee details how he came to be a professional podcaster, spending his days pursuing all kinds of stories, including wildlife in the Canal Saint-Martin, interviewing locals on what they know of beavers in the canal, only to have an elderly French woman tell him “I know there are crocodiles, because I put them there,”thus igniting a frenzy of listeners itching to know - could there really be crocodiles in the Canal Saint Martin?

While the current presence of crocodiles in the canal has not been confirmed, Gee does provide some evidence for their existence, citing a crocodile that was recovered from the Paris sewers in the 1980s. But for now, it can only be confirmed that the canal is home to nutria, large, aquatic South American rodents that have successfully made Paris (and many other parts of Europe) home after escaping from breeders who raised them for fur.

By contrast with that outlandish anecdote, “Paris on Air” starts a bit predictably: a young person with an itch for travel arrives in the City of Light and is instantly enamored and puzzled in equal parts by everything from the language to the people and the way they see the world. Instead of being stymied, Gee applies the tools of a journalist to puzzle through the realities of his new home.

Gee’s honeymoon phase with Paris is quickly cut short by the various constraints that accompany life in the metropolis — a tiny apartment that used to be a maid’s attic, a seemingly insurmountable language barrier, and the ever present problem of French bureaucracy. “Ça va être compliqué,” it will be complicated, is the unofficial motto of France, which often stands in the way of things like finding a decent apartment (bonne chance to you if you don’t have a verified French income) and navigating the banking system. But it is in these hair-pullingly stressful dilemmas that “Paris on Air” dazzles.

When Gee recounts the time that his French bank served him with over one month’s rent in overdraft fees sans notice, rather than harping on the financial system, he centers the vignette on his French friend (and ultimate savior) who taught him the importance of blending forcefulness and charm when trying to solve problems in France. As Gee watches his native friend oscillate between stern and seductive, he is struck by how “The banker couldn’t keep up with him. Every time she got defensive or upset, he turned the charm back on and she melted like a cheese fondue.”

No matter how serious the dilemma, “Paris On Air” invites readers to find humor and comfort in the author’s misfortune, almost as if Gee is sitting next to you sipping an espresso while you swap stories of “learning it the hard way.” Of course, fans of “The Earful Tower” will find Gee’s inviting and entertaining tone to be no shock - he skillfully applies the same formula to his book, and for that we can all say, “merci.”

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