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My Life in France

Last week I saw the beautiful movie Julie & Julia, which was based on two books—My Life in France by Julia Child (with Alex Prud’homme) and Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell.

I wanted to read both the books. The first book I could get my hands on was My Life in France. The book is written by Julia Child with her husband’s grandnephew Alex Prud’homme. Even though Alex wanted to collaborate with Julia on a book for a long time, Julia being very independent, always wanted to do it alone. Julia wanted to write about her life as a tribute to her husband who played a pivotal role in her success and achievements and who died in 1994 at the age of 92. In 2003, Julia who was 91 years, agreed to work with Alex on the book that tells the story of her life after she went to Paris in 1948. This book was written during the last eight months of her life, and completed and published by Prud’homme after her death in August 2004.

The book is mainly about the four things that Julia loved most in life—her husband Paul Child, France, cooking and eating. The major portion of the book covers the experiences and stories of Paul and Julia during the years from 1948 to 1954, when they lived in Paris and Marseille and also at Provence a few years later. This is the story of the transformation of a typical middle-class American lady with absolutely no experience or interest in cooking and into a world famous culinary expert. When Julia Child went to Paris in 1948 with Paul who was offered a job running the Visual Presentation Department for the United States Information Services, she did not have any idea about France or French cooking. In Paris, after trying her hand in several hobbies she found her true calling—French food and cooking.

Once hooked to French food, Julia systematically went to master the art. She perfected her language skills. She joined L’École du Cordon Bleu, the famous cooking school in Paris. She enrolled for the a yearlong professional restaurateurs. Then began her lifelong journey into the intricacies, details, and subtleties of French cooking. She was an excellent student—hardworking and innovative, thorough researcher, and above all a natural cook. She was encouraged and supported by her husband to follow her calling.

Once she became and expert she was approached by two French chefs—Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle—whose French cookbook for Americans was rejected by an American publisher saying that it was too French to be of any interest to an American cook. The publisher advised them to take a co-author—an American who knows French cooking—who could make the book interesting. Julia jumped at the chance and went right ahead in rewriting the book.

The rest of the book is about how she rewrote the entire book only to get rejected by the publisher more than once and how finally the book was published by a different publisher and how it went on to become an international bestseller. The book we are talking about is Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Then she and Simmone Beck wrote the second volume of the book, which also was a success. Then she wrote many books, produced many cookery shows (French Chef being the most famous), wrote columns in magazines and newspapers and became an international celebrity and expert on French cuisine. Also woven into the story are her various dining experiences (which cause hunger pangs every time one reads it), the experience of their travels, the people they met, etc.

What is most striking about the story is the true love between Paul and Julia. Paul would not have succeeded without Julia and Julia would not have become world famous without the help, support, encouragement and love of Paul. They were a happy and magnificent couple—made for each other in the true sense.

The most interesting factor of the book that fascinated me, after cooking and food, was Julia’s writing process. The amount of research that Julia undertakes just to get the recipes correct and procedure right is astonishing. The amount of work she did day after day, even after the manuscript being rejected more than once, is quite phenomenal. Her never say die attitude and cheerful personality and willingness to work really hard made her successful.

Her attitude toward life could be understood from the following paragraph which was written when Paul was in the hospital with the end in sight:

“I went to visit Paul at the hospital every day, sometimes twice a day. But I had much left to do on From Julia Child’s Kitchen—and thank heavens I did! As always, my work gave my life form, forced me to be productive, and helped me to keep a good balance. I was very lucky indeed. Without a challenging project like a cookbook to work on, I could well have gone cuckoo in those dark months of Paul’s hospitalization.”

This is an excellent book that I recommend to everyone. If you are a food lover you will really enjoy it. The book is all about finding your true love in life, knowing your calling and doing what you are passionate about. If you can do this all the rest will fall in place. Julia Child’s is an ample testimony that.

Book Details:

  • Author: Julia Child with Alex Prud’Homme
  • Publisher: Anchor
  • Year: 2006
  • ISBN: 9780307474858
  • Cover & Page Count: Paperback, 368 pages