Think about that for a moment. There are over 307 million people in the US and there are only a little over 62 million people in France. So percentage wise, the support Sophie receives from French readers is almost 6 times as strong as the support Sophie receives from her American readers.
The question of course is why. One reason may simply be that the French have fewer options. That's not to say there aren't as many wonderful books written in French as there are written in English. However the French have yet to fully embrace ebooks and there are no French audiobook versions of Sophie. In the states I am constantly competing with myself. My book sales will drop but my ebook sales and audio-book sales will rise and it is always a battle to get publishers to look at the whole picture. In France the picture is much narrower and precise. No equations are necessary in order to figure out if Sophie is maintaining and even building her popularity.
Then there's the French (or to be accurate, the French Canadian) art department. In America Sexe, Mensonges Et Petite Robe Noire is Vows, Vendettas & A Little Black Dress and as you can see, it's an entirely different cover...and it's boring. The little black dress on the bottom is absolutely dowdy (I pushed for a sexier version of that dress but every time they fiddle with it the results were worse). There's nothing dowdy about the French cover. It's girly but the sheer stockings dangling from the drawer, the necklace hanging out of the jewelry box and the bra hanging from the dress keep it from being too neat (and therefore making it more Sophie). It's hard to see from this picture, but in her bag Sophie has a fold up map of San Francisco and a little sleuth-like magnifying glass. It's adorable, flirty, chick-lity fun. The American art department wanted to switch up the cover to make it look less chick-litish but the French aren't afraid of chick-lit and the art department figured that there's no need to pretend the book is more subdued than it is.
But perhaps the most surprising part of Sophie's success is that it goes against common wisdom (or at least common wisdom in the US). There's a sense that the French don't want to read about "ethnic" characters or see them in their movies. People will often point to Will Smith's box office struggles in Europe as proof of this. Hollywood's so paranoid about the supposed phenomenon that when Couples Retreat was released in Europe the studio's art department initially removed the black actors from the movie poster.
Sophie's both black and Jewish. Now if you look at the most recent French cover, Sophie doesn't look very black. However, if you compare Sophie's skin tone on that cover to her skin tone on the cover of the US version of Obsession, Deceit and Really Dark Chocolate you can see that she's been tanning. Furthermore, if you compare Obsession, Deceit And Really Dark Chocolate to its French translation you can see that Sophie is always darker when she gets to France (maybe she's hanging out on the Riviera). Of the seven main recurring characters in the Sophie novels, three are black and four are Jewish.
And the French continue to embrace the books. I'm not suggesting that there isn't racism or anti-Semitism in France anymore than I'm suggesting that those things don't exist in America. But I do think that the American perception of French prejudice might not be as accurate as we thought it was. My sense is that the prejudice that exists in France and Europe as a whole, may be based more on cultural differences than actual skin-color. I'm not an expert on this subject, I'm just throwing this out there. But at the very least we should be asking ourselves why Sophie was able to buck a perceived trend.
Because the jury is out in regards to how the French feel about Sophie. They love her.
And my French readers should know, she loves them right back.