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As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto Hardcover – Deckle Edge, December 1, 2010
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No damage, The letters of Juila Child and Avis DeVoto, food, friendship and the making of a masterpiece.
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This is a "book of many colors". It is historical. It is political. It is about relationships. It contains elements of hope; frustration; despair; persistence; and,ultimately, triumph over what at times must have seemed like overwhelming odds.
I am only 21% of the way through these fascinating letters be Julia Child and Avis DeVoto so this is but a very brief review of this work, however, it is also the only time I have been so engrossed in a book that I find it valuable to write a review as a "work in progress".
As an amatuer cook given to experienting will numerous styles of cuisine, I am not sure what I expected when I ordered this book in Kindle format but I assure those who read this that what I received is far more than what I believed the book would be. I guess I expected, well, a cookbook. To this point in my reading I have come to see this work as something far more important and, for those interested in history and travel, something totally unexpected.
If you are familiar with Julia Child through her cookbooks and PBS shows, then you, like I, don't know Julia as a person outside of her known field of expertise. Born in the mid-1940's, much of what is discussed in the letters relative to the political climate of the United States, post-World War II resonates with what I, and every other "Baby-Boomer" grew up with in the 50's and beyond. It provides an interesting perspective of what Julia and Avis (both obviously staunch Liberals) see as dangerous within the U.S.; Julia as an American living abroad with her husband working for the State Department, and Avis living in the U.S. married to a successful, if too liberal, author.
Highly recommended for cooks and those who aspire to be cooks; historians and those who think history is boring.
The preceding 4 paragraphs are from the original review.
Throughout these letters and Reardon's commentaries, we see a progression as the "pen-pal" friendship blossoms. The letters become more intimate. Attitudes and prejudices surface revealing much about both Julia and Avis. Julia loves France but seems, at times. to dislike the French. Avis mentions friends with a "certain condition", namely, that they are lesbians - revealing the deep-seated prejudice against gays and lesbians prevalent up until very recently (when viewed in the context of history). The use of the word "gay" in some of the letters is quickly explained to mean the true definition of the word as opposed to the sexual orientation it has come to represent.
Nothing in these letters serves to diminish the accomplishments of Julia, Simca, and Avis in the authorship and publication of Julia's and Simca's recognized masterpiece; nor, Julia's success as a star on PBS. These letters show what life was like from the late 40's through Avis' death and, in the Epilogue, beyond to further discuss (in commentary) Julia's continued success as an author and television personality.
Deserves more than 5-stars but that's all that are available.
The correspondence is a wonderful snapshot of a period in time. We hear about the McCarthy hearings and US politics through their writings (both women being rabidly anti-McCarthy), and follow the travels of the Childs as Paul is re-posted first to Marseille, then to Germany, and finally to Norway.
And, of course, the correspondence is about cooking. Julia engages Avis (along with other family/friends) in trying out her French recipes in an American setting. Can they get the right ingredients? Do portions sizes translate? (The answer are 'not always' and 'no.') We learn a great deal about the palate and preferences of the 1950s American housewife, and surprising changes in food in the past 50+ years ( who knew that frozen chicken was uncommon in the early 50s?).
Even knowing the successful outcome, following along as Julia, Simca, and Louisette try to get their epic achievement published is fascinating. Rejected by one publisher as too much, too complicated, too long, they happily do find a home, courtesy of Avis, with Alfred Knopf. And we all know what happens after that!
Reading the correspondence made me pull out my copy of 'Mastering the Art...' and reconsider, with fresh appreciation, what went into making that grand volume that changed so many lives. I grew up with Julia Child, courtesy of my mother's love of cooking, and never really understood what a sea change she brought to the US.
Brava to Les Tres Gourmandes and brava to Avis, without whom we may have never known their work!