Reviews of my favorite books written by expatriates, journalists, and diplomats on what it's really like to live abroad

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Book Review: A Pig in Provence by Georgeanne Brennan

When I'd heard famous, California-born, cookbook author Georgeanne Brennan had written an autobiography of her life in Provence, I was expecting, well, an autobiography; but, that's not what this is. Instead, it's a collection of eight autobiographical essays, each centered around a particular Provencal food item. For example, one is about aoli, another on wild mushrooms, and a third about freshly butchered pork.

I'm not a true foodie, but most of the details she mentioned were things I already knew about from other books or personal experience. So, there's nothing unique in here, although the eight featured recipes look fairly useful. Frustratingly, Georgeanne includes just enough biographical details to get your taste whetted... and then goes back to food again. You can tell she's got a great memoir inside of her, but it's not this book.

Perhaps the most illuminating information in the book are little side comments strewn throughout about how much Provence has changed since Georgeanne first moved there in 1970, and indeed how lucky she was in 1970 to witness the very last of the oldtime customs. Tellingly, her son was the first child born in the village after an entire decade. Her local friends, at that time, were nearly all old age pensioners. Today the people inhabiting those same homes are mostly well-off vacationers from places like Germany, the UK and Paris.

Georgeanne has asked many of her oldest French friends if they miss the old days. No, they all say. It was too much hard work and isolation. But I can tell she's nostalgic for those times, if only because the food, then all homegrown and homemade, was slightly better.

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