Child’s memoir was placed on my mental to-read list after the release of the film “Julie and Julia” in 2009, but I was only recently reminded of this when I spied the audiobook read by Kimberly Farr on the shelf at the public library. In the book, Child explains how she fell in love with French food in the fall of 1948 during her very first meal in the country after her ship docked in Le Havre en route to Paris and how that love turned her into the most famous cook in America.
Although Child previously worked for the United States Information Agency (precursor to the CIA) in China, where she met her husband Paul during World War II, she moved to Paris without a job in the agency or an understanding of the French language and immediately became bored. Determined to become fluent in the language and utterly in love with the cuisine, Child enrolls in the Cordon Bleu and learns how to master the art of French cooking, which she eventually parlays into a renowned cookbook for American cooks and the very first cooking show on television.
Compiled from interviews between Child and Alex Prud’homme, her husband’s grandnephew, during the last eight months of her life, the book was completed and published by Prud’homme in 2006 following her death in August 2004. Yet the novel never loses Child’s voice — I felt as though as I was having a conversation with her — and her love of French cuisine and the French people is conveyed with gusto and infectious enthusiasm. Leaves me with the desire to run out, buy Child’s cookbook, and make beef bourguignon and French bread.
The memoir is told with impressive detail making Paris, Marseilles, and Provence of the 1940s and 1950s seem charming, quaint, and alive yet what struck me was how different her recollections of life in France are with my own. Paris in the twenty-first century is filled with chains — American and non-American, alike — and I never experienced the atmosphere surrounding food that she so fondly recollects, although I did try many of the dishes she praises in this text. A bit odd to experience nostalgia for a time over sixty years past, but I suppose it is testimony to the writing of Child and Prud’homme that they managed to make me feel this way.
- Child, Julia with Alex Prud’homme. My Life in France. Read by Kimberly Farr. New York: Books on Tape, 2006. Audiobook. 11 hrs, 17 minutes. ISBN: 9781415927243. Source: Library.