Tag Archives: paris

Meeting Cezanne by Michael Morpurgo

Meeting Cezanne by Michael Morpurgo Title: Meeting Cezanne
Author: Michael Morpurgo
Illustrator: Francois Place
Publisher: Walker Books, Penguin UK
ISBN: 9781406351132
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Pages: 64
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I had heard a lot about Michael Morpurgo and his books before I started reading “Meeting Cezanne”. I now know why both kids and adults love him and his works the way they do. There is something about the way he unfolds a story. It transcends age. Both adults and children can read his works and feel that gooey, buttery feeling and be happy, even if it means that happiness is temporary. A reread will transport you back to the feeling nonetheless. If that is what one Morpurgo book could do to me, then I am definitely reading all that he has to offer.

“Meeting Cezanne” is for young readers. The setting is 1960s. It is about a ten-year-old boy Yannick, who has to stay with this aunt, uncle and cousin in the South of France, as his mother needs recovering from a treatment. Provence is the place to be, or so the paintings of his mother’s beloved Cezanne say. It is paradise on earth and all of it. Yannick is hesitant to stay with his Aunt Mathilde and yet in the process, he waits tables at his aunt and uncle’s restaurant, he befriends his cousin and makes an amazing discovery about an artist who regularly visits the restaurant. The discovery is made when he accidentally destroys a precious drawing.

This is the plot of the book. Now to the way the writer and the artist have presented it to the reader. The writing is very simple (but of course, since it is written for children). The illustrations by Francois Place are just perfect and one just wants to constantly gaze at them, way after the book is done with. You will most certainly finish reading the book in less than an hour or so. I think the beauty of this book is that its appeal is so vast and also the fact that anything told so simply has no choice but to be beautiful. “Meeting Cezanne” is a perfect monsoon read for children and adults alike.

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Book Review: Delicacy by David Foenkinos

Delicacy by David Foenkinos Title: Delicacy
Author: David Foenkinos
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 9781408827574
Genre: Literary Fiction, Romance, Humour
Pages: 250
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

Once in a while, you chance upon a book, that you just have lying on your shelf and intend reading someday. However, that someday takes a while and when you do read it; you begin to realize that you wasted a lot of time, waiting for that someday. “Delicacy” by David Foenkinos had that impact on me. I kept wondering, why had I missed out on this when I first bought it? Why did I wait for two years to read this book? And all it took me was a six hour bus ride to finish it and come out of the reverie with a big fat grin on my face.

“Delicacy” by David Foenkinos is a charming little book. It is full of joy, happiness; comic moments and at the same time, there is sadness as well. Natalie is a woman who has it all. A great lover, who in turn becomes her husband. A successful job. A life which is fulfilled – more or less and there is nothing she could need or want. Till her life falls apart in one minute, or rather on a fateful Sunday, when the love of her life gets run over by a car and nothing makes sense anymore. And then just like that, life changes again and Natalie sees herself falling for the most unusual man ever. The setting I must mention is the city of romance, the capital of love, Paris. Paris is almost another character in the book – all pervasive and right there, sometimes mocking and sometimes encouraging love, the way it should be.

What I loved about the book was the way it is written but of course. The chapters are short (which I love) and there is no melodrama. It is as real as it could be. There is office romance. There is life going on as usual after the loss of a loved one. There is also the knowing that life may not be the same, but it will change for the better, if you want it to. The other guy – Markus is clumsy and doesn’t know how a woman like Natalie could love him. He may not be her knight in shining armour and yet Foenkinos writing makes him one.

The book speaks of social norms and breaks all of them in one single long sweep. I am not one for romantic books and yet Delicacy is romantic and not so, if you know what I mean. There is a lot of soul to the book. There were times I found myself weeping and with the next turn of the page, I was smiling.

“Delicacy” is maybe one of those rare books that truly come to you when you really want to read something like this. You cannot read it when you wish to. You perhaps have to wait it out, like I did. There will always be such books and the good part is that there will always be patient readers, waiting to be enthralled.

You can watch the trailer of the move here starring Audrey Tautou, one of my favourites. This should also lead you to read this wonderful book.

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Book Review: Chanel: An Intimate Life by Lisa Chaney

Title: Chanel: An Intimate Life
Author: Lisa Chaney
Publisher: Fig Tree, Penguin Group, Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-1-905-49036-3
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography
Pages: 496
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

One icon that instantly comes to my mind is “Coco Chanel” and it is not because of the laurels. It is because of the life she led. So when I received a detailed biography of Chanel’s life, I jumped at it and finished it in a matter of two days. Prior to this I had seen the movie based on her life, “Coco Chanel” starring Shirley MacLaine (who by the way made a perfect Chanel in her later years) and wanted to know about the designer who ruled the fashion scene for years.

Lisa Chaney’s book, “Chanel – An Intimate Life” is the most comprehensive biography there is on Chanel’s life and I say this after the research I have done on works written on her. Chanel not only chronicles Coco’s life before she turned Coco, but also proves to be an entertaining read.

The sadness and deprivation of her early years are heartbreaking – when the family did not have enough to eat and survive. Lisa then moves on from here to her emergence into fashionable society and the love affairs that defined her, to the man she loved the most and lost (Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel), to the point when she became a brand thereby changing the face of fashion to the war years as well as the loneliness of her later years to the re-emergence of Chanel in fashion.

Chaney clearly has the extraordinary ability to enter into and make her readers also understand the lives of people who were closely connected to Chanel. The writing did get pedantic in parts; however I ignored it because the rest of it was beautifully written. I liked how the author described the times Chanel lived in and how difficult it was then for any “new fashion sense” to make its presence felt. The analysis of the artistic scene then (Dali, Picasso, Cocteau) had a great impact on Chanel’s work and Lisa has given us a brilliant take there in most chapters.

Chaney’s book is an honest attempt to detail one of the most talked about lives in Fashion. It is a moving portrayal of a strong woman who did not let go of what she thought and believed in. Chanel makes for a great read.

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Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life

Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery

Ms. Barbery’s second novel is hardly a novel in form. Much is similar to her prior triumph with which I was so taken, “Elegance of a Hedgehog”. We are in the same fine apartment building, but in a different room. This could go on forever. Right up front, I should say this work of literature is for those who are not bothered by the absence of plot, action or dialogue. No, it is not “experimental” or “avant-garde.” But it is beautiful writing; and the translator is the same excellent one as last time. But we go from the teen to the doddering, both of course obsessed with death. That apartment building must have something in the wall paper. And my previous favorite, the curmudgeonly old concierge put in a brief appearance. She is Barbery’s philosopher avatar.

The streets are real as are several other things Ms. Barbery uses them to geographically anchor her work. You can visit all these. If you know central Paris, you have walked here, probably. It makes sense to me that she locates places carefully as she is from Casablanca of the old days and values place. More about this later.


The protagonist is the greatest food critic in the world, now on his death bed. He sets the stage by spluttering stuff about his greatness. He would otherwise be craven enough to sport for the Guise (ok, I should say ‘guide’) Michelin. The careful writing that comes through in this translation even lets us appreciate that he fancies himself as the Sun King. “Le Etat ce Moi”. Or as an old boxer has said “I am the greatest”.

Turns out that, in his final hours, he is groping for his culinary equivalent of the lost chord. But early on you have the clues something is not quite right with his image as suffered by others or imagined by himself. He characterizes daube and pot au feu as extravagant. Huh? I think we are in for a ride.

The structure of the book is a series of monologues, short, by each character. This is a kind of “Spoon River Anthology”, where all the characters come to say their piece. It could be a radio play. Each circles back to the “Great Man”, every other chapter. Chapters are short, from less than two pages to perhaps five from the protagonist. I have never seen mayonnaise used as a device of foreshadowing.

In his tomato homage, he no sooner reflects on fresh ones honored by oil, than he reverses himself and proclaims the nobility of oil to be false. Something deeper at work here. Words are never wasted; Flaubert would smile. I had to run out to my kitchen and eat three right on the spot!

This book is not for foodies. There is remarkably little actual discussion of food, despite the title. But she does give her thanks in a final note to Pierre Gagnaire, who may be found on 6 Rue de Balzac {Balzac? no coincidence there). The bakery Lenotre can there be found there as well. But Ms. Barbery’s musical reference bears mentioning as well. Laure’s entry, late in the book, begins with a song from 1964 . You can find the North African version by Natasha Atlas (as in the African mountain chain) here on Amazon. This is the one Ms. Barbery is likely to have grown-up with, but you can search for a more euro version y Francoise Hardy. In any case it is a song about life fleeting from the point of view of a droplet of dew.

Even sans plot, there is an ending I shall not spoil. Having said that about gastronomy, it should be remarked that the underlying theme of this story is brilliantly expressed through recollections by different voices, alternating with that of Pierre Arthens as he lay dying. Who the reader will discover in Pierre Arthens is a heartless, self-absorbed, arrogant hedonist who represents selfishness, vulgarity and excess of the “elite”. The irony that as he finds himself dying, his final desire is for one more, elusive taste sensation ~ “the only truth to be told” of his life, is a powerful statement, one to truly reflect upon.

Ms. Barbury has achieved an elegant work of small literature. Her focus is on each voice, uninterrupted. More, please.

Gourmet Rhapsody; Barbery, Muriel; Europa Editions; $15.00