Read: Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Summary: The stories of three women, Jeanne Proust, Marie Prevost, and Sarah Bensimon are told with overlapping features of the burdens of family life, love, and the divide between bilingualism (French and English) and dual religions (Jewish and Catholic). Art, literature and cooking are integrated into these women’s stories as an escape from life’s struggles. At the opening of the book,we begin with Sarah Bensimon’s life as a young pre-teen girl in her adoptive home in Canada. We then learn that she is a Parisian Jew who escapes the perils of occupied France in 1930s when her Jewish parents send her off to Canada for adoption by a couple who are unable to have children. Marie Prevost, our second story, is the main narrator of the book and tells her story in the first person. She leaves Montreal, escaping a failed romance, to explore Paris and research Marcel Proust. Among Marcel’s documents in the national library in Paris, Marie stumbles across Jeanne Proust’s unpublished diaries which Marie is determined to translate. Lastly, interspersed with Marie Provost’s narrative, we read the diaries and life of Madame Jeanne Proust in France during the late 1800s to early 1900s. We explore her worries regarding her son, Marcel Proust as he finds his footing as an artist and author after failing at a career in law which Marcel’s father has impressed upon him to pursue.
My Thoughts: Overall, Madame Proust and the Kosher Kitchen was a good read. The interactions of each of these stories played out interestingly with similar themes based on the struggles of discovery especially based in language and religion. The flow between each story proved interesting as we jump through history and discover the growth these women had to endure.
I loved how Sarah’s story, through her son Max, spilled into Marie’s narrative as Marie’s relationship and frustration with Max developed. Marie poignantly asks Max about Sarah’s life as a child in France and her new life in Canada. Sarah’s tale moving to Canada and her adjustments to living with adoptive parents was heartfelt and deeply captured my interest.
I felt Marie’s story could have developed more. The development of Max and Marie’s relationship and her subsequent disappointment which pushed her to escape Canada, I thought, was lacking. There wasn’t a clear statement that explained why Marie was frustrated with Max and what pushed her away. It was until later in the book we discover the reasons for Marie’s discontent with Max.
Marie’s infatuation with the Proust family was a definite drive for the book and pushed me to read more. I like the interaction of the Proust diary interspersed with Marie’s tale. Jeanne Proust’s diary as translated by Marie who also provides a little commentary was interesting.