Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Review: As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child & Avis Devoto

I picked this book up after watching Julie and Julia, then reading the autobiography of Julia Child, My Life in France because I thought it would be an interesting perspective through a collection of personal letters between Julia Child and her friend, Avis DeVoto. The decade long collection of letter correspondences between Avis and Julia start with Julia reaching out to Avis' husband, Bernard (a American historian) about a knife, through fan mail. In place of Bernard, Avis' response sparks the start of a life-long friendship and culinary/literary collaboration.

Avis is not only Julia's good friend, but she was critical to helping Julia publish Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Julia herself is known as American chef, author and television personality. Julia brought authentic French cooking to American tables in the 60s through television and cook books. In the age of social media where relationships are created or ended in the blink of an eye, the collection of letters between Avis and Julia is very much the opposite: a lovely marination of two women's common interests and perspectives over years. While they surely had telephone correspondences on occasion, the essence of their perspectives is evident when you read the letters--both women are learned and capable in their own rights.

Avis, left and Juia, right working on... something!

I liked that the sections were prefaced by a summary of sorts to give the reader an idea about what turn of events (without giving it all away!) were about to unfold. Reading the letters feels like you're embarking on the same emotions and events Julia and Avis are, from their daily mundane struggles to the more lofty subjects like political atmosphere. Neither woman is dull by any means and the lives they lead are more than enough adventure for a reader. I enjoyed living through them by their letters as letters are generally not hidden behind several layers of editing or censoring by the writer, which makes them even more lively and enjoyable.

This is the first collection of letters I've read... it helps that I had some background from the other two books even though the editor made efforts to include lots of footnotes with explanations and clarification. Aside from the biography/autobiography slant, the book touches upon the political and cultural subjects of the time, giving a time-capsule feel where it's easy to lose yourself in their conversations. Other than the intimate insight into creation of one of the most well known and reputed French cooking books, if you enjoy history, this can be an interesting read as well, especially regarding the US political atmosphere of the 1950s.

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