Les Livres (The French word for books)
We have created a little French library. Some readers have contributed their favorite books about France, novels, cookbooks, and guidebooks. I’m opening the library with a brief review of my top three French reads since 2000.
Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong was written in the early 2000’s. It’s part history, a bit about geography, a section on linguistics and a good part about the culture and habits of the people who call themselves French. The title, of course, carries a stinging double entendre.
Suite Française. The carefully secreted manuscript for this book was found and published long after the principal character in the story had disappeared. It was her daughter who later sought to get the story into print. Irène Némirvsky, a Jewish woman living in Paris with her husband at the beginning of WWII, fled Paris and hid wherever she/they could during the German occupation of France. She began writing the book in 1940 but was captured and died in Auschwitz before she completed it. I have read this book two times. It is a very moving description of the horror that happened to Jews in France.
In the same genre is Sarah’s Key, about a young Jewish girl who was rounded up and put on a train during the Vel d’Hiv in Paris in 1942 and sent towards Auschwitz. Before she leaves the apartment where her family lived, she hides her little brother in a closet, tells him to be very still, locks the door and promises to return for him. In the story, she escapes the train with the aid of a sympathetic soldier and returns to her former Paris apartment to rescue her brother. Therein lies a sad twist. This is based on a true story that was uncovered when an American expat journalist was writing an article in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Vel d’Hiv. French policemen were complicit in helping to round up children and families in this unspeakably historical moment in Parisian officialdom. Each of these books is historically grounded, both have been made into movies. I highly recommend them if you have an interest in personal stories of French people during WWII.
I carried the thick and heavy and very early edition of this book on the plane to Paris in the year 2000, marked and tabbed with all the special places to eat and shop and picnic; where to buy table cloths, copper cooking pans, tea, French baking supplies. Best coffee houses, boulangeries, patisseries and fromageries. Patricia has updated this book a number of times and now has an app AND a Kindle edition making it ever-so-portable. Before embarking on this journey, I downloaded the most recent edition to have a digital guide to what is current in the Parisian culinary scene. My daughter Patty and I spent a week in culinary school at Patricia and Walter Wells home in Provence in June 2003, further endearing both of us to her unique style of using fresh, local products to make creative and healthy French meals and adding to our collection of French cookbooks. Oh and we roasted a leg of lamb in the oven of Julia Child’s old, old Le Cornue stove that Mrs. Child had given Patricia when Julia and her husband closed their apartment in Paris and moved back to the US
My Paris Kitchen Just must add one more. I follow a blog written by David Lebovitz, formerly the pastry chef for Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California. David left Chez Panisse following the death of his partner, moved to France where he has lived for the past fifteeen years and where he remodeled (and wrote about it) his tiny French kitchen. He loves to cook and dine and travel and write about everything related to French cuisine. He has written a number of books that have become favorites for many of us who love to cook French food or READ about others who do. About three years ago, he published this masterpiece of a tome…one that is to heavy for me to heft, so I take photos of recipes on my phone and print them to use in the kitchen. Here is a picture of the cover of this beautifully photographed livre, filled with fully tested recipes. And later you will see a recommendation from my friend and travel-mate Sue Wilson for another one of his books that is HER favorite.