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My Life in France is the most entertaining memoir I've read in 2006! It's a winner.

I first met Julia Child under unusual circumstances. My consulting firm was located down the street from where she got her hair done. Every Friday night, she would be seen peering into the windows to look at our art collection. After a few weeks of this, I walked outside and invited her in to tour the work up close. She was immediately studying everything from about three inches away. She thanked me politely and charged out the door. There was no hint of the slightly tipsy person filled with laughter who hosted The French Chef. Ah . . . I felt like I had met the real woman beneath the persona.

From that meeting, I gathered that she was a woman moved more than most by curiosity. I found myself also being curious about how she learned enough about French cooking to help co-author that masterwork, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Most French people in those days would not choose working with an American as a way to produce a work about France. That would be like putting salty Virginia ham into Quiche Lorraine.

My Life in France nicely filled in all the blanks for me. The book was lovingly finished by her grand-nephew, Paul Prud'homme, after Julia's death and is filled with lovely photographs produced by Julia's husband, Paul Child.

Here's the short version of the book. Julia had been in Asia for World War II as part of the OSS and met her husband there. He was ten years older than she was and well traveled . . . especially in France. After World War II, he joined the USIS (predecessor to the USIA) which played a friendly sort of propaganda function promoting American values and ways of doing things. In November 1948, Paul landed a posting in Paris and Julia, the Pasadena, California bred daughter of a conservative businessman, was in for the surprises of her life. She fell in love with French food at her first meal! With no job in France, she began working on her language skills and learning how to cook (a new task for her!). Soon, she decided she wanted to go to Cordon Bleu. After some misadventures, she finally passed with some modest skills designed to help a homemaker rather than a chef. But she made friends with others who loved French food and eventually became acquainted with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. The latter two had an informal agreement to publish a book on French cooking for Americans. But they had just lost their American collaborator. Julia stepped in.

From there, much of the book recounts the decades of painstaking work that went into creating that first book and its follow-ons in which Julia played the role of making the recipes work in American kitchens with American ingredients and utensils. It's truly mind-boggling. My respect for her work is unlimited!

The book finishes with explaining how Mastering became a best seller and Julia became a television star.

Along the way, you'll meet her favorite food vendors, tutors, chefs and guests. She'll also delight you with her mouth-watering menus and how dishes turned out under different circumstances.

The title of the book is a little misleading. The material also covers time spent in Germany, Norway and the United States. You also get a full look at her marriage and the great joy that both Childs brought to their love.

Throughout, the book is filled with little Julia-isms in that humorous self-deprecating style that we all came to love on The French Chef. She lards the text with some piquant French phrases and quotes (which are usually translated more mildly into English).

As an author, I found her process of finding a publisher and working with publishers to be quite fascinating.

In her last decades, the book is a picture of grace as she devoted herself to her husband, her old friends and to French cooking.

Bon appetit!
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Rather than a complete biography this ebulliently phrased memoir covers the years Julia and her beloved husband, Paul, spent in France (1948 - 1954). Paris was where the the woman remembered as the doyenne of French cooking got a rather late start on what was to be an enormously succesful career.

Paul and Julia met in Ceylon where both worked for the Office of Strategic Services, and married in 1946. Two years later Paul was assigned to head the exhibits office of the U.S. Information Service in Paris. A painter and photographer who had been to France earlier he was well suited for the task. On the other hand, Julia had never been to Europe, came from a middle class, conservative California family and by her own description was "six-foot-two-inch, 36-year-old, rather loud and unserious." Little did she know what a life altering experience France would be.

She well remembers their first meal in Rouen which she described as "absolute perfection. It was the most exciting meal of my life." Thus began her love of French food, in fact for all things French - the markets, the people, the restaurants, the countryside. At that time she was an average cook at best but determined to learn how the French prepared such glorious food. To that end she learned the language and then enrolled at the famed Cordon Bleu. Surely no student has ever worked harder, more doggedly or found as much joy in food preparation as Julia. She wanted to know every infinitesimal detail of each dish, including the whys and wherefores of ingredients chosen, and variants in cooking time.

Eventually this devotion to French cuisine led to a partnership with two French friends (Simone Beck and Laced Bertholle) in a cooking school and from that to dreams of a cookbook for the American market. There was a very long road ahead filled with happiness, surprises and disappointments but the book was published at last. This, of course, led to Julia's television series and more cookbooks.

My Life In France is filled with rhapsodic descriptions of dishes and accompanying wines as well as details of keeping house in a country still recovering from a devastating war. Due to Paul's career the Childs moved from Paris to Marseille to Bonn to Washington to Oslo and then Paul's retirement. Julia met every challenge with pluck, purpose and bonhomie. Hers was a life well lived, thoroughly enjoyed, and vividly remembered.

- Gail Cooke
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on July 31, 2007
'My Life in France' is a superb book that effuses with that wonderful endearing quality we have all come to know and love in Julia Child. The book focuses mainly on the early years of developing her first cookbooks and television show.

The book begins when she and her husband, Paul, make their first trip to France because of his new job assignment. You feel her giddy excitement upon landing on the shores of a place she had for so long desired to go. We hear in minute detail the look, smell and taste of her first French meal, and from there we are introduced to "La Belle France". Before I began the book, I wondered for how long I could sustain reading each night about a person's breakfast, lunch or dinner meal that had been eaten 50 years prior, but Julia has such an adorable way of speaking, and her sometimes child-like observations of life and people around her are so heartwarming, you just wish you had been there. As the book progresses, she speaks about her collaboration with two women for her first book, and sometimes the claws come out. You're thinking, "Julia!" But, as with all friendships, there are things that agree with us and things that don't. Without some of these tidbits, the book may have been too trite, or frankly boring. Subsequently, it was interesting to hear of the minor squabbles that occurred between the women and the simple controversies concerning her husband and his role as a "diplomat". Paul and Julia Child made many friends overseas, whom they adored and loved. The majority of these people stayed in her inner circle until the end of their lives. For me, night after night, I couldn't wait to sit down and read about so many dinner parties with simmering meats and side dishes, lovely conversations, and eccentric friends. The only thing I didn't like about the book is that it ended too quickly, and I found myself missing the evenings with Julia.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon December 13, 2013
Child's book, it should be beyond surprise, reads rather like a cookbook. The reader is dizzied with untranslated French and long lists of French foods and left wondering if the subject was that of snails or gourmet crackers or perhaps the neighbor's cat. The text is a skillful lesson in gleaning from context quickly which passages should be read in detail and which should be merely glossed over for lack of adding anything to the narrative. No matter how assiduous I might read and reread Julia's detailed dinner menu from December 5th of 1962, it is exceptionally unlikely that any impression will be left on my apparently impregnable mind.

Actual writing aside, one is left at the end with a vast respect for the life that Child led. Her experiences were varied, her energy and patience immense and yet she never seemed to succumb to the egotism so common in the accomplished. She acknowledged that her chosen topic was a complex one but she pursued it with a vigor and exactitude that made it accessible to the common housewife of the time. Unlike her predecessors she took the time to make sure that the recipes in her book were not only detailed enough to be executed by the uninitiated but also didn't include those ingredients that couldn't be obtained outside of France. Her legend as the bridge between French cooking and America seems well earned.

Overall, I'd grant the book a few stars out of five but it would be much more entertaining to someone who had more of a connection either with cooking or with French culture. It is fairly hard to dive mind-first into a book that requires so much of it to be explicitly ignored.
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on October 16, 2009
I simply couldn't put this book down...and was even tempted to start reading it all over again as soon as I finished it! A candid story about Julia Child, her life in France (obviously!) and her struggles to get the infamous "Mastering the Art of French Cooking"
published. Entertaining and very can hear Julia shreiking at you from every page!
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on June 22, 2012
I first got interested in this book after watching "Julie & Julia". While I did not especially care for Julie Powell's story, I was fascinated with the narrative that detailed Mrs. Child's life, and love of food. I am also madly in love with France and with cooking, so reading this charming memoir made me feel like I had made friends with a kindred spirit, and a formidable woman. And I do love formidable women!

The book covers Julia Child's life in Paris with her husband, her discovery of traditional French cooking, the writing of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" volumes 1 and 2, and of course, how she got started on television with "The French Chef". While I hardly ever use her actual cookbooks (her stuff if often too time-consuming to whip up for my hectic schedule), her pivotal role in bringing fine cuisine in everyone's kitchen is immeasurable. This passionate, opinionated and salt-of-the-earth woman stopped at nothing to share her love of good food with everyone, and watching her go through the experience and jump the hurdles is a great ride.

The narrative is light, informal and friendly. You immediately feel as if she is casually telling you her story around a meal and a glass of wine. The lovely, intimate snapshots (often her husband's work) make the book even lovelier. A charming, light read for food aficionados and francophiles!
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on August 12, 2011
I bought this book after seeing the movie Julie and Julia while visiting friends in Florida. I was glad to find out that one can also purchase it through amazon. It is a real treasure. I can't imagine how anyone could be critical of it. It is simply a delight to read and wonderfully helps me remember how pleasant it was to watch the movie. To read the story of an individual who came to really enjoy her life by pursuing her passion was truly inspiring.

Like many a military wife, Julia first came to Europe (Paris, France to be exact) as the wife of a federal civil servant. Rather than letting what could have been (and remained) a foreign environment defeat her, she went about the business of learning the language and the culture, shopping on the economy and learning to cook like the locals. Rather than letting others' bad experiences cause her to become prejudiced to an area in advance, she recognized the treasure it was to even BE stationed abroad: "In Paris and later Marseille, I was surrounded by some of the best food in the world, and I had an enthusiastic audience in my husband, so it seemed only logical that I should learn how to cook la cuisine bourgeoise--good, traditional French cooking. It was a revelation. I simply fell in love with that glorious food and those marvelous chefs. The longer we stayed there. the deeper my commitment became." Julia then continues to write about her life in Paris and Marseille, the necessary move to Bonn, Germany and in the end to Oslo, Norway. Although she admittedly loved Paris the most, she so very positively found something good about every country she lived in. For instance she couldn't understand why the Americans she met in Germany were so conservative in their choice of brewed beverages: "They drank beer, but only the lighter, American-style beers. What a shame! They were surrounded by some of the most wonderful beers in the world--and with a 13.5 percent alcohol content, some of the strongest, too--but they deemed the traditional German ales 'too heavy'. We quite liked German beers. Our favorite was a flavorful beer called Nuremberger Lowenbrau."

I think anyone who would read this book would find it very entertaining. Personally I got lost in some of the French words for the various dishes Julia produced but fortunately she always gave an English translation so I knew what she was cooking.

The book concludes with one of my favorite passages: "Such was the case with the sole meuniere I ate at La Couronne on on my first day in France, in November 1948. It was an epiphany. In all the years since that succulent meal, I have yet to lose the feelings of wonder and excitement that it inspired in me. I can almost still taste it. And thinking back to it now reminds me the pleasure of the table, and of life, are infinite--toujours bon appetit!
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on December 2, 2011
I've always loved Julia Child, and in fact I was named after her by parents who adored her just as much. This book completely revolutionized how I perceived her... I found that we had a lot in common, and that she might be one of the most accessible story-tellers I've come across. With the help of her nephew, this book has been written which makes you feel like you've lived her life right along with her. It's charming, heart-breaking, funny, inspiring, fascinating... at times even a little shocking (for a vegetarian like me, some of the descriptions of certain recipes were a little ovewhelming, like 'pressed duck'). This is one of my favourite books of all time... it's an autobiography, travel novel, diary, memoir and foodie's fantasy all rolled into one. You'll fall in love with France just like she did, you'll come to admire her as a truly unique person. I would recommend this book to anyone, of any age, from any cultural background.
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on June 25, 2013
Had read the biography, Dearie by Bob Spitz and a friend suggested I read this as well. Well worth reading a second book on her life. Her personality permeates her version and you do get quite a different perspective on the events of her life that complements rather than duplicates Dearie. The most striking aspect of the book that comes through is her remarkable character, a perfectionist who has the ability to immediately move on undaunted when faced with obstacles or situations that can't be overcome. She was also quite the intellectual with many interesting comments about society and politics.
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on March 2, 2010
I loved the uplifting sense of adventure that Julia was able to impart to her chronicle about living and learning across Europe. I read and use her recipes in the 2 volumes of THE FRENCH CHEF with new understandings and appreciation. The cover of the book is inappropriate and misleading... it's an advertisement for the movie JULIE AND JULIA. It would make more sense to have a photo from Julia Child's husband's wonderful collection as exemplified inside the covers.
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