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Return to Paris: A Memoir    by Colette Rossant order for
Return to Paris
by Colette Rossant
Order:  USA  Can
Atria, 2003 (2003)

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Retum to Paris is a simply but delightfully told story of the growing up years of a girl born of a French mother and an Egyptian father. Colette Rossant tells of leaving a life she loved with her late father's family in Cairo to live with a cold, domineering grandmother in Paris. Rossant's mother seemed happy to relinquish her parental responsibilities to her own mother. And that woman was only too happy to take them on as long as the monthly stipend from Colette's trust fund arrived on its due date.

Colette spent a great deal of her time in the kitchens of her families' homes in Cairo and Paris, where she found caring and understanding ears in the families' cooks. At the same time she discovered food - good food with wonderfully fresh ingredients. She delved into the open air markets in both Cairo and Paris, where she could indulge in the exquisite tastes thrills of food cooked on the spot, and also buy fresh ingredients to take back to her home kitchens.

Her life took a welcome turn when her mother remarried and a stepfather, Mira, entered her life. He, too, had a love of good food and indoctrinated Colette into the wonders of fine cuisine. Her joy at tasting a new dish is expressed as wonder and delight, which she shares with the reader. I can picture her holding a fresh red onion and seeing the beauty in it. Colette describes the meal her stepfather ordered for her on their first meeting. 'My first course arrived engulfed by the most extraordinary, intoxicating aroma. A lone globe of aluminum foil sat on a white china plate, accompanied by thin slices of buttered toast. I didn't move and simply allowed the scent to waft toward my nose.' Removing the foil, 'a black ball revealed itself, engulfed in steam'. She was told to slice it thinly and taste it. She 'tasted something more sublime than any other food I had ever had.' Colette 'couldn't begin to describe the joy I felt eating that truffle, an epiphany of the senses, a thrill caressing my adolescent tongue.'

Retum to Paris enthralled me with its simplicity. The author never seemed to ask 'Why me?' when she confronted the downturns in her life. She invariably rose above the problem and moved on. This book is filled with hope and history and a few of her favorite recipes. Her family was vehement that she should never marry an American. She was une jeune fille de bonne famille - a young girl of good family! Time will tell if her marriage to an American will last. It's only been forty-six years to date. The recipes offered are wonderful and I definitely will try some of them, such as the 'Tomato Salad', 'Potatoes in Cream au Gratin' and 'Georgette's Pain Perdu'.

Colette has written eight cookbooks and a memoir, Memories of a Lost Egypt, which has just been placed high on my must read list. Don't miss this book. It's a partial cookbook, a love story and the memoir of a very resilient and determined woman, whom I would like to know.

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