The Librarian Next Door

My Life in France

In the fall of 1948, Julia Child and her husband Paul arrived in Le Havre, France for Paul’s new position at the American Embassy in Paris. A simple meal in Rouen, at Restaurant La Couronne, would begin Julia’s love affair with French food – an affair that would spawn a lifelong fascination and obsession with food and change Julia’s life forever.

It is impossible not to love Julia Child. Her infectious enthusiasm seems to pervade every aspect of her cooking. Published two years after her death in 2006 and co-written by her grand-nephew Alex Prud’homme, My Life in France was Child’s sumptuous memoir of her time in Paris and Marseille in the early 1950′s. Filled with incredibly detailed memories (including precise and deliciously descriptive recollections of specific meals), My Life in Francefills you with Julia’s warmth and passion for France, French food and the experience of eating extraordinary food.

This book is not an autobiography in the strictest sense; rather, it’s a collection of stories and memories linked together by food – the food Julia loved to eat and the food she learned to craft and create during her years in France. It’s focused primarily on the first half of the 1950′s decade, when Julia attended Le Cordon Bleu, and then met Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, the two women with whom she would write the classic French cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Her stories are accompanied by black-and-white photographs taken by her husband Paul and together, they give readers an intimate look at Child’s life in what she called her “spiritual homeland.”

The best way to describe it is to say that I fell in love with French food – the tastes, the processes, the history, the endless variations, the rigorous discipline, the creativity, the wonderful people, the equipment, the rituals.

Though Child and Prud’homme relied on family letters to help fill in some of the blanks, the level of detail in My Life in France is still astonishing, especially considering that Julia was recalling all of these memories in her 90s! And while her nephew did do the bulk of the actual writing, it is Julia’s voice that shines through on every page. You can practically hear her, with her distinctive voice, describing the simplicity and the intricacy of French food. Post-war France comes alive and it’s as if you’re there with her, bobbing in and out of the little shops, lingering in the market over the fresh produce and flushing with excitement in her attic kitchen as she experiments and triumphs. Her single-minded determination to master French cooking is inspiring and her relentless belief in her cookbook, despite several rejections, is a lesson in perseverance.

Of course, Julia Child fans should read My Life in France, but even if you’re simply a fan of food or a fan of France, this memoir is the perfect companion. With sensory details and a palpable zest for life, Julia Child’s My Life in France is as comforting as a croissant and chocolat chaud on a rainy day.