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The Diary of an American Au Pair    by Marjorie Leet Ford order for
Diary of an American Au Pair
by Marjorie Leet Ford
Order:  USA  Can
Anchor, 2003 (2003)
* *   Reviewed by Rashmi Srinivas

After being laid off from her job at an advertising firm in San Francisco and canceling her wedding, Melissa impulsively takes up the position of an au pair in England. It sounds grand to work for a Member of Parliament, but is it really so? NO, as poor Melissa soon finds out.

Besides three children of varying ages to whom she's supposed to devote her entire existence, there is easy going and amiable MP Mr. Haig-Ereildoun and the lady/ruler of the family, Mrs. Haig-Ereildoun, who has a kind of Jekyll/Hyde thing going on. It takes some getting used to, but Melissa soon comes to know her charges: dreamy, friendly Trevor; Pru, who aspires to be like her mother; and the adorable and partly deaf little imp Clara. Working with Clara proves to be the one bright spot in an otherwise gray existence. Melissa finds the culture shock to be almost too much to bear, and often finds herself the butt of jokes and sneers. Neither a servant, nor a guest, her position is a most confusing one.

Taking advantage of her meek nature, Mrs. H-E rolls right over Melissa, who soon finds herself part-nurse, part-maid to this British household, with not enough pay for either. But being a woman of her word, she's determined to stick it out till summer. Her unhappiness leads her to overindulge and the narrative includes not only descriptions of food, but also their recipes as cooked across the Atlantic. A keen observer, Melissa soon begins to become adjusted to the differences. She maintains a diary, and corresponds with people back home, relating events with wit and humor. She meets an Englishman who attracts her strangely, but obstacles appear in the form of her not-so-ex-fianc9, and surprisingly enough, Mrs. H-E herself.

Marjorie Leet Ford has written a convincing novel, based on her own experiences as an au pair. The story seems a tad exaggerated at times, with numerous characters who aren't always likeable, though the account of Melissa's teaching deaf child Clara to speak is inspiring. The author has gleefully pounced upon differences between English and Americans (mostly to the detriment of the former) and made much of them in her book, which also contains a cornucopia of English epicurean delights (some mouthwatering). The weight problem, which the au pair faces, will touch a chord with many readers, and after reading the story, it is easy to discover the root cause of Melissa's growing obesity.

Ford has a curious writing style, which first describes the effect, and then the cause, and though this seesaw kind of narrative is not very coherent and tends to drag in places, The Diary of an American Au Pair is enjoyable overall.

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