Book Review: My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme

From the Back Cover:

Julia Child singlehandedly awakened America to the pleasures of good cooking with her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her television show The French Chef, but as she reveals in this bestselling memoir, she didn’t know the first thing about cooking when she landed in France.

Indeed when she arrived in France in 1948 with her husband, Paul, she spoke no French and knew nothing about the country itself. But as she dove into French culture, buying food at local markets and taking classes at the Cordon Bleu, her life changed forever. Julia’s unforgettable story unfolds with the spirit so key to her success as a cop and teacher and writer, brilliantly capturing one of the most endearing American personalities of the last 50 years.

Thoughts:

This book is not one I would’ve chosen on my own.  (Thank you, Book Club!) What would we do without other people in our lives challenging us with different types of books and authors? Life would be a bunch of the same old stuff, that’s for sure!

If you didn’t already know, Julia Child is an American who went to France with her husband in 1948. She was merely tagging along as his diplomatic job decided where they live. But she found French food incredible and discovered a love for cooking and investigating recipes that drove her for the rest of her life.

She wrote the book with her grand-nephew Alex – the son of her brother-in-law Charlie Child. There is a sweet introduction speaking to their friendship and writing relationship until her death in August 2004.

As with every person who has ever lived, we do not live in a vacuum. Governments, wars, choices, presidents, countries and ideologies all impact us. Paul and Julia had job stresses, landlord difficulties, fallout from World War II, communism, fickle friends, not to mention language barriers to navigate.

Over and over, I found myself amazed at Julia’s pluck and optimism. She picked the good from a bad situation and learned and kept right at her goal of learning French and how to cook.

“I don’t believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanation over the food you make. Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen,
or the cake has collapsed—eh bein, tant pis!”  — Julia Child

(Translation: “Well, so much worse.” In short, get over it!)

I believe it is beneficial to note, for those not familiar with French food, they prefer for the food to taste as the food. The idea is not to rub so many herbs and spices into the meat that it completely changes flavor. There are a lot of “interesting” dishes where a fish is stuffed with minnows and other “I-can’t-possibly-imagine-this-tasting-good” type of dishes. But I will leave that up to far more refined palates than mine.

Themes:

Food, food and lots of food! Lots of French words as well. Some had translations but because of the similar spelling and context to English and other languages, I could figure out what most of the meanings.

I loved reading Julia’s accounts of different foods, restaurants, their adventures and even their misadventures! They were a team and took it in stride. If the heater didn’t work and French repairmen didn’t know what to do, they just put on extra clothes. It didn’t stop their fun.

When her kitchen wasn’t what she liked, she made the best and created what she needed. She learned well and performed excellently.

Reservations:

There was a mention of a “household god” named Shao Pan-Tzu on p166. A quick Google search showed me this name is of a kitchen god. Julia and Paul originally met in Asia as they enjoyed the delicious food and their adventures finding it. Another member of Book Club suggested that maybe they picked it up as a souvenir of their travels. The rest of their lives did not seem connected to any type of religion or religious thought. I’m thinking this is likely the case.

I don’t have any real reservations to this book.

Recommendations:

This book is a fascinating look into a time in our world history while at the same time an uplifting story of an “older” (36yr) woman finding her niche and making the world a better place as a result.

If you want to gain as much as possible out of this book, I would recommend a basic understanding of French as well as a deep love of cooking. You will greatly enjoy her almost-scientific approach to recreating the dishes she loves so much.

Bon Appetit!!

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