When I first read Julia Child’s memoir six years ago, I was transported.
“What a towering personality and colossal wit,” I wrote. “Most people would probably love to sit and talk with Julia Child about food, but I must admit: I would love to just sit and listen to her tell me stories about her cats! Or, of course, to talk to her about France. I adored reading her accounts of the streets and vendors and markets, the people she met and the bureaucratic nonsense she encountered, the personalities and challenges and delights. This book is a must read for anyone who even remotely fancies themselves a Francophile.”
Before I left for France at the end of May I debated what books to take with me. I knew I would not have much time to read, but nevertheless I scanned the shelves, looked on my wish list at DCPL, and perused my to-read list on Goodreads. I finally settled on My Life in France.
It’s quite nearly a perfect book. Julia’s intelligence, verve, tenacity, and humor shine on every page. She delights in everything: adventure, food, work, and people. I was gutted this time around by the final bumpy trip down the driveway at La Pitchoune. But Julia wasn’t. Always one to look forward, I appreciated her lack of sentimentality – whether for the end of an era in Provence or the death of her father. After his ashes were spread, she responded with characteristic straightforwardness, a straightforwardness I tried to emulate on finishing her book: Eh bien, l’affaire conclue.
And yet, for Julia there is no sense of an ending, it’s merely on to what’s next. After closing their house in France, Julia, in her late seventies, writes, “Now I was moving forward again, into new experiences, in new places, with new people. There was still so much to learn and do – articles and books to write, perhaps another TV show or two to try. I wanted to go lobster-fishing in Maine, visit a Chicago slaughterhouse, teach kids how to cook. I viewed our recipes as a sacred trust, a set of rules about the right way and wrong way to approach food, and I felt a duty to pass this knowledge on. In short, my appetite had not diminished!”
In a letter Julia received from her editor at Knopf, Judith Jones, Jones writes about “an essential flavor of French life.” She’s talking about charcuterie, but still, I would say the same about Julia’s book. It is essential reading, and I won’t, as I did before, even qualify for whom. Not just for francophiles, or cooks, or food lovers, or old fans of her show, but for everyone. It’s that kind of book, and it’s that good.
While reading My Life in France I was reminded of Helene Hanff’s voice, and her admonishment of people who never read a book more than once. I’ve now read this one twice, and having finished it a second time, I can’t wait to read it again.
Up next: Dearie.