Saturday, June 15, 2013

LUNCH IN PARIS by Elizabeth Bard

Memoirist Elizabeth Bard states that there are two kinds of croissants.  The first is a “brioche”;  the second,  flaky.  “I like flake, a croissant with an outer layer so fine and brittle that you get crumbs all over yourself from the very first bite.”

Bard’s delectable memoir, Lunch in Paris, features multiple recipes—for swordfish, ribs with honey, mackerel, duck and blackberries, French onion soup, carrot soup, and salmon.  Also, “Fennel Salad with Lemon, Olive Oil, and Pomegranate Seeds,” “Goat Cheese Salad with Fresh Figs,” “Choux Pastries,”  “Summer Ratatouille,” and more.  To top it off, an essay on French cheeses and lots of chocolate.

But the main course of  Lunch in Paris is the story of how Bard met, romanced and wed her French husband, Gwendal, in Paris.  She was twenty-five years old at the time, a graduate student in art history, in London.  Gwendal was a graduate student in computer science, who longed to be a filmmaker.

Their first meal together—at his tiny studio apartment—was an impromptu lunch concocted of onion, carrots, ham, and tagliatelle pasta.  “It was the best thing I’d ever tasted,” she writes.  “This is amazing,” she said. “You have to give me the recipe.” “ ‘There is no recipe.’ he said, smiling.  ‘I use whatever I have.  It never tastes the same way twice.’”

That first lunch, on their first date, was one of many featured in the book.  There is a sumptuous lunch at L’Herm├Ęs—a fancy restaurant with an offering of  “duck with braised  cabbage and apples.”  There is lunch with his parents.  There are lunches during Bard’s stint as a tour guide, and a pre-wedding dinner  with  both sets of parents, at which—except for the bride and groom—no one spoke the other’s language.

Even so, Bard purports to have decoded the reason French women are slim.  Petite portions.  “A French portion is half of an American portion, and a French meal takes twice as long to eat,” she writes.  She concluded this after she  analyzed her slender French mother-in-law’s eating style:  no snacks, drinks lots of water, no soda, drinks wine, and eats petite portions.

During the courtship, as Bard shuttled back and forth between London and Paris, she was a bit off-kilter: “The boys I’d been out with before went to the same schools, came from the same towns. . . .  Although [Gwendal and I] were roughly the same age, we didn’t have the same cultural references.”

It’s a tale of love in two cities; but  Lunch in Paris is not a Charles Dickens novel.  For this is a modern story, a modern love (he  cooked for her!).  It’s love, dating, a wedding and marriage, Parisian style.  When he proposed, Gwendal said, “I know what I want.”  He just wanted to be  happy, and to share his life with her.  (Bard and her friends wanted success.)

Lunch in Paris is a delectable, delightful hybrid memoir—travel and food.  (The language is wonderfully descriptive—not just white, but “the color of warm milk.”)  A chick-lit memoir—with recipes and romance—that depicts the realities of living in Paris, and the romantic ways of one Frenchman.

--Yolanda A.  Reid

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Sunday, June 9, 2013


Waiting To Be Heard is the  eagerly awaited memoir by Amanda Knox.   In 2009, Knox was convicted—then later acquitted—of murdering her housemate, Meredith Kercher, while both lived and studied in Italy.  During the trial, one reporter dubbed Knox the “angel face,” because she projects uncanny innocence, truth and beauty. 

The story of Knox’s life—in the Northwestern part of the U.S., before she landed in Perugia, Italy—makes for interesting reading.  A self-described “quirky kid” of divorced parents, Amanda had been  a teenager who had dabbled in new experiences.  Because she kept a journal, she describes with seeming accuracy her conversations with family, friends and boyfriends, at home and later in Italy.

Surprisingly, Knox wrote Waiting To Be Heard  herself, and her writing is exceptional.  (I had expected a co-authored book.)   She aspires to be a professional writer, so we can look forward to more of her writings. 

A causal factor in  Knox’s circumstances was that her beginner-Italian could never match the Italian of a native—so she misunderstood, misread and misspoke.  When her two Italian housemates consulted lawyers, Amanda was interrogated  mostly without even an interpreter.  Her exasperation and bewilderment are almost palpable.  The consequence is that, upon acquittal and despite her innocence, she spent four mind-blowing  years  in prison.

Now aged twenty-six, Knox is candid in the book about her lifestyle and relationships at the time.  Also, she reveals  mistakes in a few of her personal choices.  For example, her Myspace photos and writings were used in court—to her detriment.  “Looked at together,” she comments, “these latter images would have portrayed a typical American girl, not as tame as some, not as experimental as many, but typical among my age group—a group that had the bad judgment to put our lives online.”

Waiting To Be Heard projects a three-dimensional  image of  Knox as a mostly “typical American girl” who stumbled into a harrowing experience in Italy.  But she is also resilient, intelligent and—after this experience—might make an excellent  lawyer.  Knox’s  father’s statement, before she left for Perugia, sums up what was then a serious flaw: “I worry that you’re too trusting for your own good, Amanda.”  

Readers—especially law enthusiasts—who wish to psychoanalyze Amanda Knox, or parse the facts and events to “re-try” the case, should read this riveting memoir.

--Yolanda A.  Reid

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Note:   Linda Kulman helped to write Waiting To Be Heard.

Saturday, June 8, 2013



As a teenager, I used to read lots of books.  Our  basement had bookcases that lined the walls, end to end.  Alongside the bookcases were a couple of  boxes filled with books.  The basement was our private family library.  I'd descend to its nether world, peruse the bookshelves, then bring books—sometimes a batch at a time—up to my room, to read.  Sometimes, I’d pick a book from a bookshelf and sit as I read or skimmed  its pages, at leisure.

So the following is a list of YA books that I’ve read and been comforted by.  Each book is beautiful and a classic.

 1.  The Woman Warrior  by Maxine Hong Kingston.--I read  The Woman Warrior  years ago, and was moved and inspired by it.  It is the story of Maxine Hong Kingston, the author, as she grows up in California.  The book describes the stories of her childhood.  One monumental character is Brave Orchid, Maxine’s  mother.   The subtitle defines the book as a memoir; but  some readers might consider this a novel rather than a memoir, as some of the stories are fantastical, larger than life.  It is, after all, a “girlhood among ghosts.”  Nevertheless, The Woman Warrior contains beautiful imagery, and poignant vivid scenes.  

2.  Home to India by Santha Rama Rau—At age 16,--after  living in England for ten years—author Santha Rama Rau and her family returned to India.  Her father was a diplomat during the time of Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent coup d’état.  The modern/Westernized Rau had to get re-acquainted with her relatives, who espoused classic Indian customs and traditions.  Eventually, she attended Wellesley College and wrote Home to India  while there.  The result is a poignant, well-written story imbued with the time and magic of India—amid political intrigue.

3.  Fifth Chinese Daughter by Jade Snow Wong.--Fifth Chinese Daughter  is the delicately told memoir of Jade Snow Wong during the 1950’s.  Born into a poor family in California, she was inspired to go to college—despite being a girl.  The book chronicles Jade Snow’s hardships and struggles—with neither help nor encouragement from her family.  Ultimately, Jade Snow triumphs by graduating from Mills College; she went on to become  an internationally-known ceramist.  Fifth Chinese Daughter  reminds us that education—now considered a right—was once thought of as a luxury.  In some parts of the world, even today,  girls are shunned or worse for wanting to be educated.

--Yolanda A.  Reid‎