Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Appetite for Life - The Biography of Julia Child - Noel Riley Fitch

This was an stellar biography of Julia Child, giving an excellent picture of her family background, the influences that made her the person who could excel in the rough and tumble world of government intelligence during the chaotic World War II era and then translate her organizational skills and joie de vive to a career in entertaining, cuisine and finally broadcast media. When you  think about it, all the areas of her life's work were tied to being a socially adaptable creature. What I found a joy was that she found a true love in Paul Child who, though somewhat of an intellectual snob (IMHO) and order driven soul,  never lorded it over Julia.

That being said, my love for Julia Child's persona was fed to overflowing with this book. What a woman! A live wire with a fun streak that kept her family and friends on their toes, it seems that everyone genuinely liked Julia. I enjoyed reading of her exploits in childhood running willy nilly with her neighborhood friends, slowly gaining intellectual structure through her boarding school experiences, but always keeping a rowdy sense of humor and down-to-Earth practicality about herself.

Making her way from the entitled life at Smith College into the world of business and then government work seemed a wake-up call for Julia. I loved that she was honest about her shortcomings when she applied for her first government job. I think it must have been one of the reasons that she landed the job in OSS - honesty and forthright, hard-working and perseverant, easy-going and able to adapt ... she seemed the right woman for the climate and conditions of OSS work in WWII Asia. It was in Asia that she met and fell in love with Paul Child. Becoming friends first and then seeing the chemistry develop was a slow process that became a no-looking back adventure when the two returned state-side after the war. Marriage and the move to France cemented Julia's shift from safe track government employee to enthusiastic expatriate. Rattling around post-war Paris was bound to make her crazy for a new routine, especially since Paul Child was fitting into a post-war niche in Information/Arts/and Media Communications for the US government, as it established a presence in Euro politics.

Aren't we all glad that she found the Cordon Bleu and made history in a foodie career? I know I am, but I think she would shake her head at my practices in the kitchen. I consider myself a pretty good cook, but her level of knowledge and exposure astounds me. Reading about the dishes that she mastered, the wines that she and her husband and friends sipped, the places that they traveled, and the people that she mixed with boggles my mind. Some people have such interesting lives!

Interestingly, I read somewhere that this particular biography is the only one that Julia openly appreciated and cooperated with in full. Noel Riley Fitch has written other studies of famous American expatriates in France. Her understanding of the country and the culture shows in her handling of Julia's biography. Though I found some of her chapters repetitious, it all fell into place and served to form a complete picture of the woman that Julia Child became. Like I said, this was a good read.


  1. Thanks, Susan. I'm always on the lookout for a good biography.

  2. Susan, this is one I haven't read, but intend to. I grew up watching Julia Child on PBS with my mother, and we always thought she would fit right in there in our own kitchen. Unfortunately, it was some 15 years after my mother died that I actually met Julia and chatted with her on several occasions. Even after she started using her walker, any time Julia entered the room one could sense her energy and vibrant personality before she said a word.