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All Good Things
Sarah Turnbull
Hardcover
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INTRODUCTION

“Oh yes, I was ready— even if I wasn’t sure what awaited me.” (30)

Sarah Turnbull was about to depart on the adventure of a lifetime. Again.

A decade prior, Australian native Sarah Turnbull had found a new life (and love) in Paris, a story chronicled in her bestselling memoir Almost French. So when her husband, Frédéric, is offered a position in tropical Tahiti, she is initially hesitant to leave her new Parisian life. But as the idea of life on a tropical island begins to fill her thoughts, she finds herself longing for her next big adventure.

When Sarah arrives on her new island home, she is a bit overwhelmed: “I was excited, definitely. But also awed and intimidated” (34). Her island life slowly begins to take shape, filled with swims in a teeming lagoon, visits with her new neighbors, trips out to explore the island and dives to explore the surrounding life–filled waters, and work on the novel she brought with her from France. Despite ’visits’ from petty burglars and a car crash and a confrontation that leaves her “unsettled,” (104), Sarah settles in.

However, the lush island does not help Sarah produce a novel— her stalled progress on which begins to mirror her troubles conceiving a child. In Paris, Sarah and Frédéric had tried IVF six times “all the way to the end,” and “countless” times the process was started and then stopped when Sarah’s body didn’t respond to the hormones (108). Sarah had hoped that fertile Tahiti would help her ability to create: “Book and baby: I’d never dared speak them so boldly but my aims for the next two years were clear in my mind before we moved” (54).

It is Sarah’s usually–reserved French therapist who is the catalyst for Sarah and Frédéric attempting IVF one last time: “It’s not a crime to hope, you know” (165). Inspired, Sarah and Frédéric travel to Australia to give IVF one last try. Even though the procedure seems unlikely to work, Sarah finally hears the words she had been waiting six years to hear: “You’re pregnant” (202).

Sarah and Frédéric return to Tahiti for the duration of Sarah’s “grossesse précieuse” and to welcome their son. Not everything goes smoothly— Sarah’s early labor forces an emergency Caesarean section, Sarah’s mother comes to help care for her newborn son but falls ill, and an accident leaves baby Oliver and Sarah with painful memories of Tahiti. When Frédéric’s career changes have the family on the move again (296), Sarah realizes paradise may be exactly where she is.

Engrossing, candid and ultimately hopeful, All Good Things is the story of diving in to life— and finding your own personal paradise.


ABOUT SARAH TURNBULL

Sarah Turnbull is the author of the international bestseller Almost French. Formerly a television journalist with SBS in Sydney, she began working as a freelance writer following her move to Paris in 1994. After nearly a decade in France, Sarah spent several years on an island near Tahiti. She now lives in Sydney with her husband, Frédéric, and their son, Oliver.


A CONVERSATION WITH SARAH TURNBULL

Did you think you’d write another memoir after Almost French? What prompted you to write All Good Things?

In many ways All Good Things is everything I swore I’d never write—not only another memoir but a more personal one than the first! But I think there’s truth in the notion that the story you most resist is the one you’re meant to write. Writing has to be heartfelt and honest to be any good, and this book certainly came straight from the heart.

Where did the title of the book come from?

It’s a reference to ’good things come to those who wait’, an expression I used to repeat to myself for comfort during the years we were struggling to have a child.

What’s the biggest misconception you had about Tahiti before arriving?

This will sound mad but I’d pictured Mo’orea—we chose to live on the neighboring island to Tahiti – as somewhat smooth and flat. When I saw the island for the first time from the ferry my heart almost stopped: the volcanic peaks positively burst through the ocean, it was about the most energetic landscape I’d ever seen. Only then did I understand the radical move we’d made, from bustling, central Paris to a remote tropical island.

What aspect of Tahitian culture was the most difficult to adapt to, coming from France? What aspect did you embrace? Did any part of Tahitian culture come with you and Frédéric to Australia?

The hardest part for me was adapting to the solitude. An island, no matter how beautiful, can feel cut off and isolated—especially when you work alone from home as I did. In terms of cultural influences, one that has stayed with me is the Tahitian love of high color. Our home is definitely more colorful these days!

Does Oliver remember anything about Tahiti? Do you see any Tahitian in him?

For a while after we returned to Australia he would shamelessly pick flowers from public parks and private gardens and slip them behind his ear—a habit he learned from Nelly, one of our Polynesian neighbors. But he no longer has any memories of the island, he was barely eighteen months old when we left.

What advice do you have for other couples struggling with infertility?

My immediate reaction would be to say ’find a good doctor.’ But IVF is not for everyone. I have friends who gave up after one go because they found the process too fraught. What I can say for sure is that repetitive failure has a nasty way of catching up with you: each new negative result left me feeling more fragile and empty. I grappled with some pretty tough questions. Were we mad to keep hoping and trying? Was it time to let go of our dreams? What shape would our life take without a child? Talking to a counselor or therapist can be really valuable.

What do you miss the most about Tahiti? Have you been back?

Not yet, though now that Oliver is old enough for it to be meaningful we are longing to show him the place where he was born. I miss our friends and neighbors. And those magical morning swims in the lagoon that were so vital to me. I think the tropical temperatures have spoiled me for life—the waters off Sydney are way too cold for me!

How has your time in Tahiti affected your creative work?

All Good Things is at heart a very personal story about my struggle to create and procreate. I went to Tahiti with two ambitions, after all – to write a novel and to have a child. But place is always a big inspiration for me in my writing and the book also explores island life and notions of paradise, as well as my wonder at the underwater world of the lagoon, and beyond.

Would you encourage others to live abroad?

Definitely. Not only do you learn about another culture, you also discover a lot about your own. You learn a lot about yourself, too. Being outside your own country and comfort zone is humbling.

What do you hope readers take away from this book, from your experiences?

I hope it makes people think about what they really want in life, what’s important. Longings of various kinds are a major theme in All Good Things. Like Paris, Tahiti is an iconic destination, it makes people dream. Yet real life is always messy, no matter how photogenic the location. Nowadays, it seems to me the dream of paradise has morphed into a longing for perfect happiness. In the book I describe the precise moment when I realized the key to it all might be something less ambitious: contentment.

What’s the next adventure on the horizon for you?

Sydney is home, for the moment. After fourteen years abroad, I’d started to long for the one place in the world where I didn’t have to explain myself, where my accent wasn’t an issue, where I didn’t stand out. Australia is that place for me. But for Frederic that place is France so another move isn’t completely out of the question!


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Have you ever lived or vacationed abroad? How did your expectations compare with your experience?

  2. While packing for Tahiti, Sarah and Frédéric go back and forth over what to bring, and their disagreements about “what to take and what to leave highlighted fundamental personality differences” (25). If you were leaving on a trip like Sarah’s, what would you insist on bringing with you?

  3. At a dinner with fellow French émigrés, Sarah stirs up strong feelings among the guests about Paul Gauguin and Tahitian politics: “Unwittingly, I’d been provocative— or perhaps not so unwittingly” (71). Why do you think Sarah was being purposefully provocative? Have you ever felt a similar desire to incite heated debate?

  4. Sarah’s day planner reveals the most consistent element of her day–to–day on the island: “Although it was regularly modified, the first line never changed: 7am SWIM” (56). Why is Sarah’s swim so important to her? Is there a part of your day that’s equally important to you?

  5. “Petty theft was an endemic across the islands, the intrusions so common that even the gendarme politely referred to them as visites” (93). How would you have reacted to these ’visits’? More like Sarah’s subdued reaction when her bikini bottoms are taken, or more like her baseball bat–wielding reaction when she’s home alone with Oliver (259)?

  6. Sarah learns that the Tahitian word fiu means “fed up/ tried/ flat/ over it/ over everything” (130). Have you experienced fiu? Do you agree with Nelly that it is an excuse to miss work, or otherwise shirk responsibilities?

  7. Sarah remarks on the many ways Tahitian culture differs from French culture, from laid–back dinners to extended families remaining close together. What differences did you notice between Tahitian culture and American culture? Do you think you could live in Tahiti long–term?

  8. “It was time to turn our backs on science and put our faith in Mother Nature” (111), says Sarah, when she and Frédéric decide to rely on Tahiti’s natural fertileness to become pregnant. Although it is in Sydney, not Tahiti, where Oliver is conceived. Do you think science has become more powerful than nature?

  9. When parenthood seems impossible, Sarah and Frédéric sit down to list possible new hobbies to help fill the void (148). Do you think Sarah and Frédéric would have found contentment in hobbies or travel? When a goal seems unattainable, have you ever tried to refocus your attention like this?

  10. “My dream of having a baby had come true but that other great goal, my ’novel,’ amounted to a meager collection of scenes and characters that stubbornly refused to connect” (288). Is it possible for a person to actively pursue two different goals at once, or will one always fade into the background? Can someone “have it all”?

  11. Frédéric’s colorblindness (51) prevented him from seeing the colorful island as Sarah did, though his determination to care for an injured heron (139) shows that he shares Sarah’s desire for children. How do you think Frédéric’s experience differed from Sarah’s? How was it the same? How would this memoir be different if it was written from his point of view?

  12. Do you see Sarah’s move back to Australia as a homecoming, or her next step forward? How might Sarah define ’home’? Has your definition of what a home is changed after reading Sarah’s story?