My Life in France by Julia Child

Chef, author, and T.V. personality Julia Child, communicates her joy and passion for life, people, and French food in My Life in France, written with Alex Prud’homme. Beginning with her and her husband’s move to Paris working for the United States Information Service, Julia Child relates their adventures as government employees living in post-WW II Europe. From Paris to Marseilles to Bonn to Washington D.C. to Norway, Child provides a rich, sensory experience for the reader.

“I closed my eyes and inhaled the rising perfume. Then I lifted a forkful of fish to my mouth, took a bite, and chewed slowly. The flesh of the sole was delicate, with a light but distinct taste of the ocean that blended marvelously with the browned butter. I chewed slowly and swallowed. It was a morsel of perfection.”

This description of her first meal in France exemplifies Julia Child’s passion and attention to detail when it comes to food. That first meal begins Child’s journey from young, inexperienced housewife to confident author, business woman, and cooking show host educated at Le Cordon Bleu. What she learns from her professor Chef Bugnard at Le Cordon Bleu, “Yes, Madame Scheeld, fun!...Joy!” is something that she carries with her throughout the grueling process of researching and writing Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This process is recounted by Child in great detail. She shares the lengths to which she and co-author Simone Beck went to test the recipes and learn anything and everything about single ingredients such as eggs and specific recipes such as mayonnaise.

The same passionate and joyful attitude with which Child approaches food and “cookbookery” extends to her relationship with people and politics, two subjects on which Child expresses strong emotions in this autobiographical account. Throughout their five-year stint in France and subsequent years in Germany and Normandy, Child and her husband Paul met and made many good friends. Chef Bugnard, author Curnonsky, Julia’s co-author Simone Beck, her pen pal Avis De Voto, Paul’s brother Charlie, and Julia’s sister Dort were all people that in some way assisted Julia in her “cookbookery,” cooking experiments, and made the Childs’ lives abroad such a positive and defining experience. Julia and Paul Child loved to entertain, which provided an opportunity for her to try new recipes and gave him an opportunity to share the choicest vintages with their friends, colleagues and neighbors. Politics, a subject on which Child stands solidly Democratic, served as a source of tension in her distant relationship with her Republican father. Child finds various opportunities to express her political views on the McCarthy witch hunt, Communist influence in France, and the Marshall Plan.

The positive, upbeat tone throughout My Life in France reflects Child’s approach to life and change. In her epilogue, Child asserts, “I will always have such wonderful memories” and later, “I’ve always felt that when I’m done with something I just walk away from it- fin!” Her positive tone is accompanied by informal exclamations (“Yahoo!”) and a generous helping of French, much of which is not translated. Child provides vivid descriptions of the French countryside, their various residences throughout their stay in Europe, and innumerable restaurants where she and Paul dine. Her descriptions can drag on, but the vivid pictures she creates keep the reader’s attention. Julia Child succeeds in providing an engaging account of her adventures in France that can keep any reader fascinated, culinary background or not.