Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen
Unable to escape the pain of her unrequited love for Max Segal, Marie Prévost travels to Paris in order to study the writing of her other great amour: the novelist Marcel Proust. Marie is bilingual and works as a simultaneous translator in Montreal, and believes that reading Proust’s original papers will give her insights into love and loss that just may mend her broken heart. But when Marie arrives in Paris, Marcel remains as elusive as Max: the strict officials at the Bibliotèque Nationale only allow her access to the peripheral papers of File 263 -- a much ignored and poorly catalogued collection of the diaries kept by Jeanne Proust, Marcel’s mother. Despite the head librarian’s opinion that they contain only the “natterings of a housewife,” Marie begins to translate them, and discovers that Jean Proust’s diary is as illuminating for what is not said as what is there.
Entwined with Marie’s story are the diary entries that she has translated: Jeanne Proust’s records of day-to-day life in her Paris household, which make up the second strand of this novel. Jeanne’s diary includes all aspects of life at 9 Boulevard Malesherbes, everything from the difficulties of cutting rich desserts from the dinner menu to the latest Parisian headlines to her fears for the health and literary ambitions of Marcel. She’s a worrier, Madame Proust, but also ferociously protective and supportive of her frail son, and the trials of her small world come across as powerfully as the goings-on outside her doors. Madame Proust’s diary entries, particularly those from the height of the Dreyfus Affair, also convey her experiences as a Jewish woman within a prominent Catholic family and a privileged social class. And it is this thread that makes Marie recognize the difficulties of finding the woman’s true voice, given the atrocities to come during the Second World War.
As she continues her work, Marie increasingly explores the devastation of the Holocaust and wonders about our collective responsibility to remembering -- and recording -- it’s truths. Her explorations of Paris, first limited to the Proustian tour, begin to include memorial sites such as the one at Drancy, a transit camp on the route to Auschwitz. During her travels she comes across references to Max’s mother’s family, the Bensimons, and begins to make connections between the overbearing mother Max so often complains about and Madame Proust. She also starts to recognize the horrible burden Sarah Segal must carry.
Sarah’s story is the third strand of this novel. Sarah Segal -- née Bensimon, then Simon -- was sent to Canada from France at age twelve, just as the Nazis were beginning to round up Parisian Jews. Growing up with her foster family in Toronto, she is never able to escape the loss of her parents, and as a young woman she travels back to Paris to discover that they did, in fact, die at Auschwitz. But despite -- and perhaps due to -- finding out what happened to them, Sarah is unable to fully adjust to her life in Canada. She doesn’t know how to communicate with her son or her husband, and finds even the most mundane domestic events overwhelming. It is only when she retreats to her kitchen, determined to fuse her French and Jewish histories by mastering a kosher version of classic French cuisine, that she begins to face her sorrow head on.
Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen is Kate Taylor’s first novel, and has been highly praised by reviewers. Most comment on Taylor’s wonderful ability to weave together three distinct stories in such a way that the larger truths emerge from among their combined details, and on the subtle way she is able to meld history and fiction. As one literary critic has stated, “Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen marks the stunning emergence of a writer from whom we can expect much in the future.”
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1. Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen opens with Sophie Bensimon, Sarah’s mother, visiting her family’s monument in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, reflecting with sadness on the accomplishments of those buried there -- not only the famous artists but the Jewish cultural elite of Paris and...
“Magnificent.... Like Michael Cunningham in his prizewinning The Hours, Taylor adopts a tripartite structure to show how events in a writer’s life and themes in his work have resonance for subsequent generations. Taylor’s is, however, much the richer, subtler and less deterministic work.... truly inspired.” -- The Times (U.K.)
“Take this splendid book to bed with you.... It will be a surprise if Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen doesn’t work its way on to thousands of bedside tables with the same word-of-mouth recommendation that turned Mary Lawson’s Crow Lake into a bestseller.” -- The Globe and Mail
“Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen reads like a dream, meticulously crafted and researched, sophisticated in style and structure.” -- National Post
“Kate Taylor achieves, with seemingly effortless grace, a remarkable feat: the near-perfect balance between being true to history and writing an engaging and fictional tale... In a harmonious weaving of history and fiction, the author recreates the essence of time past, gently enveloping her characters in their context without ever overwhelming them… Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen marks the stunning emergence of a writer from whom we can expect much in the future.” -- Calgary Herald
“The strength of Taylor’s novel is in its evocation of Paris at the turn of the 20th century. The social and family life of the middle-class Prousts feels both accurate and imaginative.” -- The Gazette (Montreal)
“This is a remarkable first novel -- thoughtful, versatile and an extremely good read.” -- Penelope Lively
“…the parallel portraits of old and new worlds are vividly atmospheric. This well-written, melancholy story contains a lot to admire -- not least Marie's conclusion: ‘I have found the cure for heartbreak. It is literature.’” -- Sunday Telegraph (U.K.)
“A work of sensitivity and depth from an author who writes perceptively, with many moments of lyricism.” -- The Vancouver Sun
“Taylor’s meticulously crafted novel is an impressive debut.” -- The Daily Mail (U.K.)
“Taylor has tackled these ideas with tenderness and subtlety; it is an ambitious project by a promising writer.” -- Times Literary Supplement (U.K.)
“Fans of A.S. Byatt will be intrigued by this book.” -- Flare
“Moving dextrously between Paris and Canada, Kate Taylor weaves together these disparate strands with great skill, sympathy and frequently arresting prose. She writes most beguilingly about identity, belonging and exile. But above all, these stories issue sharp warnings about the power and limitations of love, especially the parental variety.” -- The Guardian (U.K.)
“A moving meditation on Parisian and Toronto history.” -- Maclean’s