My Life in France

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In 2015, my husband and I watched the film Julie and Julia. I thought that “Julie” was whiny and unlikable. Despite all of Amy Adams’s efforts to make Julie adorable, I thought that the real life character being portrayed on the screen was dull and forgettable. But, I loved her concept. I thought that her efforts to cook and blog her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking was genius. And Meryl Streep gave a perfect performance in the role of Julia Child.

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Growing up in the 80’s, I was aware of Julia Child, and I knew that she had a cooking show on t.v., but I knew little else about her. Some of my friends were avid “Saturday Night Live” watchers, and I have a fuzzy memory of Dan Aykroyd doing a SNL sketch of Julia in “The French Chef.” Sadly, this rather vulgar skit formed my adult opinion of Julia Child for more than ten years. It was not until, as young parents, my husband and I started watching The Food Network that I began to understand how revered Julia Child was by master chefs.

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When Julie and Julia came out, we had little babies and were too busy to go to the theater. I was intrigued but overwhelmed and promptly forgot about it. Years later, when the babies were bigger and we had a Netflix subscription, my husband and I enjoyed a date night on the couch watching this intriguing look inside Julia Child’s life. I was absolutely smitten with Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Julia Child, and I had to know more about this legendary, second-career chef.  

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The 2009 film, Julie and Julia, was based on a true story book by Julie Powell called, Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously. I have not read the book. The film chronicles modern Julie Powell and her year of cooking and blogging her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Running concurrently, the film also chronicles Julia Child’s story from her time in France up through the relative present. At one point in the movie, the two women are scheduled to meet. I won’t go into detail because I don’t want to spoil the film.

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Despite me not liking Julie’s character, the film shows a home cook who is doing exactly what Julia Child wanted the American home cook to do. And I found that very intriguing. So, while the film treated me to a look inside Julia Child’s storybook life, it also gave me the sense that Julia Child is accessible to me, through her cookbooks, in the same way that she was accessible to Julie. This approach endeared Julia Child to me and made me want to know her. Since she died in 2004, the closest that I am going to get to knowing her is to meet her in her books. Namely, her memoir, My Life in France.

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And so, I did what Julie did. I got a copy of My Life in France, as well as some of Julia’s cookbooks, and I marveled at this woman’s creative genius, her attention to detail, and her colorful life. She was a force!

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I have read My Life in France twice. Once in 2015 and again this fall. Each time, I was swept up in her story and I delighted in her tenacity. I can’t stand her politics, I don’t like her self-centeredness, and I think that I would have had a hard time really feeling cozy in her company. But! Oh, how I relish her culinary artistry! Her drive to know, understand, and love every nuance of food. This exciting and fascinating memoir transported me to France. I felt like I was in the market with her exploring gamebirds. I longed to see the restaurants she was describing. I found myself trying to get a peek of Paul Child hiding behind the counter in their t.v. show “The French Chef.” Her story is darn good reading. She lived a storied life and the memoir captures the excitement of it.

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Julia was everything that I am not: tall, exuberant, extroverted, liberal, emotionally unreserved, confident in the face of failure, and eccentric. But she was everything I want to be in the kitchen: courageous, creative, extremely technical, and endlessly patient. Like her or not (I can’t help but love her), she was a master worth studying.

The audiobook version of My Life in France is very well done. The narrator has an authentic French accent in the right places and is easy on the ears.

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A word about suitability for young listeners/readers: most of this book is pretty wholesome. I did not worry much about littles overhearing it while I carried it around the house with me. If there is any offensive language, I missed it in both of my readings. I don’t remember any lewdness. For teens interested in biographies or chefs, this is probably a good read. Conservative Christian parents will want to know that Paul and Julia Child were unreligious and held progressive views of morality and politics. This bias runs in a thick vein throughout her memoir. Julia is not insulting of those who hold traditional values, she just assumes that conservative values are wrong.

 

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