Miichael Korda's Country Matters belongs to a genre of books chronicling the lives of urbanites who forsake the luxuries of the city for the unpredictable joys and frustrations of rural life. Some of these books, such as Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun and Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence, have an international flair. Others, such as Frank Levering and Wanda Urbanska's Simple Living: One Couple's Search for a Better Life, bring the tale a bit closer to home. Wherever they're set, such books are appealing most obviously, perhaps, to those who have made the plunge into country life and those who dream of doing so, but also, truth be told, to just about anyone anywhere who has ever owned and maintained a home.
Korda's manifestation of this tale begins with the day over 20 years ago when he and his wife bought an 18th century farmhouse in Dutchess County, 90 miles north of New York City. Up to that point, Korda, editor-in-chief at Simon & Schuster and a best-selling author, had been accustomed to living a cosmopolitan life, having been born in England and spending time in Europe and Beverly Hills before finally settling in New York City. He met his wife Margaret, who had been born into a farming family in England, while riding a horse through Central Park. Within a short time the two were married and searching for a place in the country where they could put down roots. Eventually, they found the house of their dreams and increasingly came to think of their country farmhouse as their home.
On one level, Korda's book is a humorous look at what it takes to restore, repair and maintain an old house. The narrative's real charm, however, lies in its depiction of the clash between Korda's original notions of genteel country living and the realities of modern rural life. Dutchess County, the Kordas find, is no rural idyll. Yet, despite all of the differences between these urbanites and the rural culture that surrounds them, they gradually come to feel at home, and it is their transformation from outsiders to community members that lies at the story's heart.
Vivian A. Wagner, Ph.D., writes from New Concord, Ohio.