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.