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

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I can remember watching Julia Child on TV with my mom when I was little. I never sat and watched long; the distraction of playing house or a new Barbie always pulled me away, and running off I didn’t think twice about the woman on the screen with the funny accent. Then during my adolescence we took one of many trips to Washington D.C. to see the capital and visit the Smithsonian. There they have Julia Child’s complete kitchen, which she had donated to the National Museum of American History in 2001. I didn’t remember who Julia Child was and when I asked my mom she said simply, “She’s famous for cooking.”

I’ve never been much of a cook, I try and I am successful in some things, but the passion to cook doesn’t burn deep in my heart. I enjoy cookbooks though; I enjoy the idea that I too could create something so lovely and delicious. I buy them and try recipes only to be kicked out of the kitchen by my husband, the real cook in the family. But the wonderful thing about My Life in France is that you don’t have to be a cook to enjoy this delightful memoir about food, love, and life.

In the introduction Julia states “This is a book about some of the things I have loved most in life; my husband, Paul Child; la belle France; and the many pleasures of cooking and eating. It is also something new for me. Rather than a collection of recipes, I’ve put together a series of linked autobiographical stories, mostly focused on the years 1948 through 1954, when we lived in Paris and Marseille, and also a few of our later adventures in Provence. Those early years in France were among the best of my life.”

It all started in 1948 when Julia Child followed her husband, Paul Child, across the Atlantic aboard the SS America. Newly married and never having been to Europe before, though she did serve during World War II in Asia, she wasn’t sure what to expect. But to her delight France, particularly Paris, was absolutely wonderful.

Paris was where she learned to cook, taking lessons in the famous Cordon Bleu cooking school. Though Julia earned a diploma from this prestigious school she was mostly self-taught. Spending hours, days even, perfecting a simple recipe for mayonnaise or cooking the same dish from three or four different cookbooks, she poured her entire being into learning the correct way to do even the simplest task. Out of this passion her first cookbook with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was born.

Mixed into the stories are wonderful photographs taken by Paul Child as well as a handful of family photos. Glimpses of Paris in the late 1940s, Julia leaning out of their apartment window, and pictures of Julia teaching others to cook or learning herself; these black and white photos added so much to the rest of the book.

Julia Child passed away in 2004 but her passion for life and food still lives on through her many cookbooks and this memoir My Life in France. Passionate and fascinating I could not put it down as I read about Paris in the early 1950s. Julia’s first forays into the kitchen, her first real cooking lessons and the fire that burned within her to learn more; it makes for some of the best reading I’ve come across in nonfiction in a long time. My Life in France is a wonderful tale of self-discovery through cooking and food, stories that you will enjoy and that only leave you wishing for more.

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About Katie T. Buglet