Monday, November 5, 2012

Review: Dearie: The Remarkable Life Story of Julia Child by Bob Spitz

Dearie: The Remarkable Life Story of Julia Child
Author: Bob Spitz
Published: August 7, 2012
Genre: biography
Hardcover: 576 pages
Source: borrowed from the library

My Rating: 4 stars

Synopsis (from GoodReads): It’s rare for someone to emerge in America who can change our attitudes, our beliefs, and our very culture. It’s even rarer when that someone is a middle-aged, six-foot three-inch woman whose first exposure to an unsuspecting public is cooking an omelet on a hot plate on a local TV station.  And yet, that’s exactly what Julia Child did.  The warble-voiced doyenne of television cookery became an iconic cult figure and joyous rule-breaker as she touched off the food revolution that has gripped America for more than fifty years.

Now, in Bob Spitz’s definitive, wonderfully affectionate biography, the Julia we know and love comes vividly — and surprisingly — to life.  InDearie, Spitz employs the same skill he brought to his best-selling, critically acclaimed book The Beatles, providing a clear-eyed portrait of one of the most fascinating and influential Americans of our time — a woman known to all, yet known by only a few.

At its heart, Dearie is a story about a woman’s search for her own unique expression.  Julia Child was a directionless, gawky young woman who ran off halfway around the world to join a spy agency during World War II.  She eventually settled in Paris, where she learned to cook and collaborated on the writing of what would become Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a book that changed the food culture of America.   She was already fifty when The French Chef went on the air —  at a time in our history when women weren’t making those leaps.  Julia became the first educational TV star, virtually launching PBS as we know it today; her marriage to Paul Child formed a decades-long love story that was romantic, touching, and quite extraordinary. 

A fearless, ambitious, supremely confident woman, Julia took on all the pretensions that embellished tony French cuisine and fricasseed them to a fare-thee-well, paving the way for everything that has happened since in American cooking, from TV dinners and Big Macs to sea urchin foam and the Food Channel.  Julia Child’s story, however, is more than the tale of a talented woman and her sumptuous craft.  It is also a saga of America’s coming of age and growing sophistication, from the Depression Era to the turbulent sixties and the excesses of the eighties to the greening of the American kitchen.  Julia had an effect on and was equally affected by the baby boom, the sexual revolution, and the start of the women’s liberation movement.

My Thoughts: I first became interested in Julia Child after seeing the movie Julie & Julia. I knew who she was, but after seeing that movie, I really wondered about who she was. A few years later, Bob Spitz published this definitive biography of her life, taking the reader from her parent's meeting and marriage up to Julia's death. This is a huge undertaking on Spitz's part (which is way it weighs in at over 550 pages!), but the payoff is huge: this book is so well researched and well-written, you are left feeling as if you know Julia all her life.

For me, the worst part of this book was the beginning. Spitz gives the backstory on Julia's parents, which I thought might have been reaching a bit too far. It took me awhile to get into the book because it wasn't focusing on Julia at all, just these two families and the settling of Pasadena. It really dragged. However, once Julia's born, everything just picked up. Spitz was able to capture her youth and put it onto the page, making you understand how strong she was in character but how adrift she felt at times. I felt like Spitz really came into his stride when he wrote about Julia's civil service during WWII and that it was hard to put the book down after that. Spitz spent time with Julia in the early 1990s and connected with her then, even talking about working on her biography together, but they were unable to do so before her death. But it's because of that relationship that Spitz was able to write this book so well: he doesn't paint her in a positive or negative light, but the objective one that a journalist might use. He highlights her flaws and her positive attributes.

Julia Child is a fascinating person and one who changed America (although I don't think she ever intended to change our culture). Without her, I doubt that we would have the Food Network or people who are so interested in cooking as a hobby. Julia truly changed our culture and it is hard to imagine how America might be different if she hadn't come around. There are so many things that I could touch upon, but I won't. I will let you discover this book and learn about this amazing woman. Julia was someone who spoke her mind, stood up for what she believed in, and truly embraced her motto of "Never apologize!" It was certainly a life well lived. 

1 comment:

  1. There are so many books about Julia out there and I haven't read any of them -- I suppose I don't know which one to pick! This review is starting to make me think this is one to start with -- it sounds interesting and quite comprehensive.